Litterflow chemistry and nutrient uptake from the forest floor in northwest Amazonian forest ecosystems

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Samples of the fraction of net rainfall passing through the forest floor collected at monthly intervals in four pristine forests in Colombian Amazonia, during the period between 1995–1997 were analysed for solute concentrations to estimate the element fluxes from the forest floor into the mineral soil and root nutrient uptake from these forest floors. Results were compared with inputs by throughfall, stemflow, litterfall and fine root decay. Element concentrations were tested for their relationship with litterflow amounts, rainfall intensity and length of the antecedent dry period and differences in element fluxes between ecosystems were assessed. Concentrations of elements in litterflow followed a similar pattern as those in throughfall, which indicates that element outputs from the forest floor are strongly related to those inputs in throughfall. In the forests studied, the average concentrations of elements as K, Mg, orthoP and the pH of the litterflow decreased relative to that in throughfall in most events, while the concentration of elements such as dissolved organic carbon, H, SO4 and Si increased in litterflow from these forests. Element concentrations in litterflow showed a poor correlation with variables such as litterflow amounts, rainfall intensity and antecedent dry period, except for K which showed a significant correlation (p>0.95) with analysed variables in all forests. Outputs were significantly different between forests (p>0.95); these fluxes, which particularly concerned cations, being the largest in the flood plain, while for anions outputs increased from the flood plain to the sedimentary plain. After adding the nutrient contributed by litter decomposition and fine root decay, the net outputs of main elements from the forest floors were still smaller than inputs by net precipitation (throughfall + stemflow) indicating that the litter layers clearly acted as a sink for most nutrients. Accordingly, the element balances confirm that the forest floors acted as a sink for nutrients coming in by throughfall, stemflow, litterfall and fine root decomposition. P, Mg and N appeared to be the most limiting nutrients and the forests studied efficiently recycled these nutrients.

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