Destination of Isotopic Nitrogen Fertilizer Under Varying Herbicide Regimes in a Mid-Rotation Loblolly Pine (Pinus taeda L.) Plantation in the Piedmont of Virginia, USA
MetadataShow full item record
Mid-rotation fertilization and vegetation control are some of the most common silvicultural treatments in loblolly pine (Pinus taeda L.) plantations in the southeastern United States. Competing vegetation is commonly thought to sequester fertilizer nitrogen (N) and reduce the potential growth response to a mid-rotation fertilization treatment. This experiment aims to identify what proportion of applied N fertilizer is retained in the crop tree pine foliage, and the degree to which understory vegetation is competing for this resource. Our mid-rotation loblolly pine plantation received an application of 15N fertilization (urea 365 kg/ha, at 46% N by weight, i.e. 168 kg/ha of N) and a portion of plots received an understory vegetation control (basal spray application of triclopyr; 13.6% active ingredient) treatment either before fertilization or not at all. One-year post-fertilization, 15N contents within pine foliage, leaf fall/leaf litter, forest floor, and soil were measured, as was competing vegetation presence. There was significant variation in applied nitrogen acquisition among the different ecosystem components measured, with 0-15 cm soils retaining a majority at 32-37% added 15N. Differences in fertilizer N acquisition in pine foliage between plots with and without understory vegetation control was marginally significant (p = 0.06) with pine foliage in plots without understory vegetation capturing greater 15N (4.3% greater). Red maple (Acer rubrum) and oak species (Quercus spp.) were the most common competitors but neither had a uniquely pronounced effect on pine nitrogen sequestration. My data indicate that increasing competition reduces fertilizer N foliar concentrations in crop pine trees but at a modest rate and equally across species groups. An unrefined threshold determining when fertilizer N capture in crop pine trees was affected was found at 3.1 m2/ha of competing vegetation basal area. This site will continue to be monitored over time to assess fertilizer N retention in loblolly pine each year after fertilization and evaluate the fertilizer N capture within competing vegetation.
General Audience Abstract
Some of the most prevalent management practices for mid-rotation (age 15, i.e., roughly halfway through a crop cycle) loblolly pine (Pinus taeda L.) plantations in the southeastern United States are fertilization and vegetation control. Nitrogen (N) is consistently one of the most limiting factors to productivity. The addition of N via fertilization is therefore a common forestry practice. However, when a stand is fertilized, the added resource is partitioned and cycled throughout the ecosystem. It is presumed that the amount of fertilizer N obtained by crop trees in a plantation is dependent on the level of competing vegetation (i.e., weed-trees and shrubs) present on site. Controlling competing vegetation prior to fertilization may therefore be warranted under certain conditions. To date, the amount of competing vegetation where it begins to impact fertilizer uptake by the crop tree is unknown. This study aims to elucidate this competing vegetation threshold to better inform mid-rotation management of loblolly pine plantations. This study examined applied fertilizer N capture in ecosystem components with varying levels of understory vegetation, and found more fertilizer N in pine foliage when understory vegetation was completely removed prior to fertilization. No single understory hardwood weed species had a uniquely strong influence on crop tree productivity uptake. Plots that ranked in the upper third in competing vegetation presence did have significantly less foliar fertilizer N in the pine crop trees. Additional replication of this study would be necessary to determine a universal threshold of competing vegetation which would trigger the removal of competing vegetation prior to fertilization.
- Masters Theses