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Environ Pollut. 1992;75(1):29-37.

Atmospheric deposition and canopy exchange processes in heathland ecosystems.

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Department of Plant Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, University of Utrecht, PO Box 80084, 3508 TB Utrecht, The Netherlands.


The aims of the present study were to determine canopy exchange processes and to quantify total atmospheric deposition of sulphur and nitrogen in heathland. The study was carried out in dry inland heath vegetation, dominated by Calluna vulgaris, in two nature reserves in the eastern part of the Netherlands. Atmospheric deposition was determined with throughfall-stemflow measurements, adapted for low vegetation. Throughflow measurements (sum of throughfall and stemflow) in artificial Calluna canopies showed co-deposition of SOx and NHy upon heathland vegetation. In the real Calluna canopy, a significant part of the deposited ammonia/ammonium was directly assimilated by the Calluna shoots, especially in wet periods. The concentrations of potassium, calcium and magnesium in throughflow, after passage through the Calluna canopy, increased significantly compared with bulk precipitation. The amount of cations lost from the canopy were in good agreement with the observed ammonium uptake by the Calluna. A field experiment demonstrated that losses of the above-mentioned cations can be doubled by application of ammonium sulphate. It was shown that interception deposition is an important component of the atmospheric deposition of sulphur and nitrogen upon Calluna heathland; bulk precipitation amounted to only c. 35-40% of total atmospheric input. Total atmospheric deposition of sulphur and nitrogen in the investigated heathlands was 1.5-2.1 (27-33 kg S ha(-1) yr(-1)) and 2.1-3.1 kmolc ha(-1) yr(-1) (30-45 kg N ha(-1) yr(-1)), respectively. It is concluded that the present atmospheric nitrogen deposition is a continuous threat for the existence of heathlands in Western Europe.

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