Substrate, climate, and land use controls over soil N dynamics and N-oxide emissions in Borneo

Sharon J. Hall, Gregory P. Asner, Kanehiro Kitayama

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

42 Scopus citations


Nitrogen (N) enrichment of tropical ecosystems is likely to increase with rapid industrial and agricultural development, but the ecological consequences of N additions in these systems are not well understood. We measured soil N- oxide emissions and N transformations in primary rain forest ecosystems at four elevations and across two substrate types on Mt. Kinabalu, Borneo, before and after short-term experimental N additions. We also measured N pools and fluxes across a land use gradient of primary forest, burned secondary forest, and fertilized agriculture. Background soil N 2O and NO emissions in primary forest decreased with elevation, and soils derived from sedimentary substrates had larger pools of inorganic N, rates of nitrification, and N-oxide fluxes than ultrabasic soils when there were significant differences between substrate types. N-oxide emissions after N additions and background rates of nitrification were low in all soils derived from ultrabasic substrates compared to sedimentary substrates, even at lowland sites supporting, diverse Dipterocarp forests growing on morphologically similar Oxisols. Rates of potential nitrification were good predictors of N-oxide emissions after N additions. N 2O and NO fluxes were largest at low elevations and on sedimentary-derived soils compared to ultrabasic-derived soils, even at the smallest addition of N, 15kgNha -1. Because current methods of soil classification do not explicitly characterize a number of soil chemical properties important to nutrient cycling, the use of soil maps to extrapolate biogeochemical processes to the region or globe may be limited in its accuracy and usefulness. In agricultural systems, management practices were more important than substrate type in controlling N-oxide emissions and soil N cycling. N-oxide fluxes from agricultural fields were more than an order of magnitude greater than from primary forests on the same substrate type and at the same elevation. As primary forests are cleared for intensive agriculture, soil N 2O and NO emissions are likely to far exceed those from the most N-saturated tropical forest ecosystems. This study highlights the inter-dependence of climate, substrate age, N deposition, and land-use practices determining N cycling and N-oxide emissions in humid tropical regions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)27-58
Number of pages32
Issue number1
StatePublished - Aug 2004
Externally publishedYes


  • Nitrification
  • Nitrogen additions
  • Nitrous and nitric oxide
  • Serpentine
  • Tropical forests
  • Ultrabasic
  • Ultramafic
  • Wet tropical mountain

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Environmental Chemistry
  • Water Science and Technology
  • Earth-Surface Processes


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