Soil temperature change caused by global warming could affect microbial-mediated soil nitrogen (N) transformations. Gross N transformation rates can provide process-based information about abiotic–biotic relationships, but most previous studies have focused on net rates. This study aimed to investigate the responses of gross rates of soil N transformation to temperature change in a subtropical acidic coniferous forest soil. A 15
N tracing experiment with a temperature gradient was carried out. The results showed that gross mineralization rate of the labile organic N pool significantly increased with increasing temperature from 5 °C to 45 °C, yet the mineralization rate of the recalcitrant organic N pool showed a smaller response. An exponential response function described well the relationship between the gross rates of total N mineralization and temperature. Compared with N mineralization, the functional relationship between gross NH4+
immobilization and temperature was not so distinct, resulting in an overall significant increase in net N mineralization at higher temperatures. Heterotrophic nitrification rates increased from 5 °C to 25 °C but declined at higher temperatures. By contrast, the rate of autotrophic nitrification was very low, responding only slightly to the range of temperature change in the most temperature treatments, except for that at 35 °C to 45 °C, when autotrophic nitrification rates were found to be significantly increased. Higher rates of NO3−
immobilization than gross nitrification rates resulted in negative net nitrification rates that decreased with increasing temperature. Our results suggested that, with higher temperature, the availability of soil N produced from N mineralization would significantly increase, potentially promoting plant growth and stimulating microbial activity, and that the increased NO3−
retention capacity may reduce the risk of leaching and denitrification losses in this studied subtropical acidic forest.
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