Russell, C. A., K. R. Kosola, E. A. Paul, and G. P. Robertson. 2004. Nitrogen cycling in poplar stands defoliated by insects. Biogeochemistry 68:365-381.

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Large-scale outbreaks of defoliating insects are common in temperate forests. These outbreaks are thought to be responsible for substantial cycling of nitrogen (N), and its loss from the system. Gypsy moth (Lymantria dispar) populations within poplar plots were manipulated over 2 years so that the ecosystem-wide consequences of catastrophic defoliation on N cycling could be examined. The quantities of N in leaf litter-fall, ammonia volatilization and soil N pools were estimated across the two seasons. Defoliated leaf biomass was estimated from experimentally derived approximate digestibility factors and added to the mass of senesced leaf to determine total annual leaf production. Throughout the growing season the defoliation treatment peaked at about 40% in year 1 and 100% in year 2. Rapid regrowth after defoliation meant that only 45% of the annual leaf biomass was consumed in the defoliation treatment in year 2, while control plots suffered about 20% consumption each year. In each year, defoliated plots produced 20% more leaf biomass and N than the controls, a phenomenon attributed to compensatory photosynthesis. No substantial losses of N via ammonia volatilization, nitrous oxide emission or nitrate leaching were observed. Neither was there any sustained or substantial gain in the soils microbial biomass or inorganic N pools. These observations suggest that the defoliated poplars were able to compete with soil microbes and N loss mechanisms for soil N as it became available, thereby ameliorating the effects of defoliation on soil nitrogen cycling. We conclude from this study that the N mineralized from defoliation residues was conserved in this plantation ecosystem.

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