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Amino acids are emerging as a critical component of the terrestrial N cycle, yet there is little understanding of amino acid cycling in temperate forests. This research studied the uptake and turnover of amino acid N by soil microbes and the capacity of forest trees to take up the amino acid glycine in comparison to NH4+ and NO3. This research was conducted in three temperate forests located in northwest Connecticut, USA. The three forests differed in soil parent material and canopy tree species composition. At all three sites, amino acids were released from soil organic matter through the activity of proteolytic enzymes resulting in a pool of free amino acids in soil. Free amino acids were rapidly immobilized by soil microbes. A 15N-enriched-glycine-addition experiment also showed that a significant fraction of the amino acid N taken up by soil microbes was mineralized to NH4+ with substantial nitrification at one site. Tree species from all three sites had the physiological capacity to absorb the amino acid glycine but took up amino acid N, NH4+, and NO3 in proportion to their availability in the soil. At the site with the highest gross fluxes of N, nearly all the N in amino acids was mineralized, and fine roots assimilated inorganic N much more rapidly than amino acid N. At the two sites with slower rates of gross amino acid production, the pool of free amino acids was larger, and fine roots assimilated amino acid N almost as fast as inorganic N. This study demonstrates that amino acids are an important component of the N cycle in temperate forests.


This article was archived with permission from Ecological Society of America, all rights reserved. Document also available from Ecology.