Exceedance of critical loads and of critical limits impacts tree nutrition across Europe uri icon


  • Aims We explored the relationship between the exceedance of critical loads and inorganic nitrogen concentration, the base cation to aluminium ratio in soil solutions, as well as the nutritional status of trees.
  • Conclusion The findings support the hypothesis that elevated nitrogen and sulphur deposition can lead to imbalances in tree nutrition.
  • Context Forests have been exposed to elevated atmospheric deposition of acidifying and eutrophying sulphur and nitrogen compounds for decades. Critical loads have been identified, below which damage due to acidification and eutrophication are not expected to occur.
  • Key message Exceedance of critical limits in soil solution samples was more frequent in intensively monitored forest plots across Europe with critical loads for acidity and eutrophication exceeded compared to other plots from the same network. Elevated inorganic nitrogen concentrations in soil solution tended to be related to less favourable nutritional status.
  • Methods We used recent data describing deposition, elemental concentrations in soil solution and foliage, as well as the level of damage to foliage recorded at forest plots of the ICP Forests intensive monitoring network across Europe.
  • Results Critical loads for inorganic nitrogen deposition were exceeded on about a third to half of the forest plots. Elevated inorganic nitrogen concentrations in soil solution occurred more frequently among these plots. Indications of nutrient imbalances, such as low magnesium concentration in foliage or discolouration of needles and leaves, were seldom but appeared more frequently on plots where the critical limits for soil solution were exceeded.


publication date

  • 2015
  • 2015