Determinants of Leaf Litter Nutrient Cycling in a Tropical Rain Forest: Soil Fertility Versus Topography

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We investigated the influence of landscape-level variation in soil fertility and topographic position on leaf litter nutrient dynamics in a tropical rain forest in Costa Rica. We sampled across the three main edaphic conditions (ultisol slope, ultisol plateau, and inceptisol) to determine the effect of soil nutrients on leaf litter nutrient concentrations while controlling for topography, and to examine topographic effects while controlling for soil nutrients. Both leaf litter macronutrient [phosphorus (P), nitrogen (N), sulfur (S), calcium (Ca), potassium (K), magnesium (Mg)] and micronutrient concentrations were quantified throughout a 4-year period. Leaf litter [P], [N] and [K] varied significantly among soil types. The variation in [P], [N], and [K] was explained by soil fertility alone. Leaf litter [S], [Ca], and [Mg] did not vary among the three soil types. Macronutrient (P, K, Mg, S, Ca) concentrations in the leaf litter were much less variable than those of Fe and Al. Lower variability in essential plant nutrients suggests a great deal of plant control over the amount of nutrients resorbed before senescense. Leaf litter macronutrient concentrations varied significantly over the 4-year period, but the temporal variation did not differ among the three edaphic types as anticipated. Hence, although the magnitude of nutrient fluxes may be controlled by local factors such as soil fertility, temporal patterns are likely regulated by a common environmental variable such as precipitation or temperature.

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