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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2018 Jan 16;115(3):549-554. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1714597115. Epub 2018 Jan 2.

High fire-derived nitrogen deposition on central African forests.

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Isotope Bioscience Laboratory-ISOFYS, Ghent University, 9000 Gent, Belgium;
CAVElab, Computational and Applied Vegetation Ecology, Ghent University, 9000 Ghent, Belgium.
National High Magnetic Field Laboratory Geochemistry Group, Department of Earth, Ocean and Atmospheric Science, Florida State University, Tallahassee, FL 32306.
Isotope Bioscience Laboratory-ISOFYS, Ghent University, 9000 Gent, Belgium.
Laboratory of Hydrology and Water Management, Ghent University, 9000 Gent, Belgium.
Plant Department, Faculty of Science, Université de Kisangani, Kisangani, Democratic Republic of Congo.
Faculty of Agronomy, Université Catholique de Bukavu, BP 285 Bukavu, Democratic Republic of Congo.


Atmospheric nitrogen (N) deposition is an important determinant of N availability for natural ecosystems worldwide. Increased anthropogenic N deposition shifts the stoichiometric equilibrium of ecosystems, with direct and indirect impacts on ecosystem functioning and biogeochemical cycles. Current simulation data suggest that remote tropical forests still receive low atmospheric N deposition due to a lack of proximate industry, low rates of fossil fuel combustion, and absence of intensive agriculture. We present field-based N deposition data for forests of the central Congo Basin, and use ultrahigh-resolution mass spectrometry to characterize the organic N fraction. Additionally, we use satellite data and modeling for atmospheric N source apportionment. Our results indicate that these forests receive 18.2 kg N hectare-1 years-1 as wet deposition, with dry deposition via canopy interception adding considerably to this flux. We also show that roughly half of the N deposition is organic, which is often ignored in N deposition measurements and simulations. The source of atmospheric N is predominantly derived from intensive seasonal burning of biomass on the continent. This high N deposition has important implications for the ecology of the Congo Basin and for global biogeochemical cycles more broadly.


Congo Basin; FT-ICR-MS; biomass burning; central Africa; nitrogen deposition

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