There is evidence that anthropogenic nitrogen (N) deposition enhances carbon (C) sequestration in boreal soils. However, key underlying mechanisms explaining this increase have not been resolved. Two potentially important mechanisms are that aboveground litter production increases, or that litter quality changes in response to N enrichment. As such, our aim was to quantify whether simulated chronic N deposition caused changes in aboveground litter production or quality in a boreal forest. We conducted a long-term (17 years) stand-scale (0.1 ha) forest experiment, consisting of three N addition levels (0, 12.5, and 50 kg N ha(-1) yr(-1)) in northern Sweden, where background N deposition rates are very low. We measured the annual quantity of litter produced for 8 different litter categories, as well as their concentrations of C, N, phosphorus (P), lignin, cellulose and hemi-cellulose. Our results indicate that mosses were the only major litter component showing significant quantitative and qualitative alterations in response to the N additions, indicative of their ability to intercept a substantial portion of the N added. These effects were, however, offset by the other litter fractions where we found no changes in the total litter fluxes, or individual chemical constituents when all litter categories were summed. This study indicates that the current annual litter fluxes cannot explain the increase in soil C that has occurred in our study system in response to simulated chronic N application. These results suggest that other mechanisms are likely to explain the increased soil C accumulation rate we have observed, such as changes in soil microbial activity, or potentially transient changes in aboveground litter inputs that were no longer present at the time of our study.
2016. Vol. 11, no 8, e0162086