Research Summary: Nutrient Limitation on Ecosystem Productivity and Processes of Mature and Old-Growth Subtropical Forests in China


Nitrogen (N) is considered the dominant limiting nutrient in temperate regions, while phosphorus (P) limitation frequently occurs in tropical regions, but in subtropical regions nutrient limitation is poorly understood. In this study, we investigated N and P contents and N:P ratios of foliage, forest floors, fine roots and mineral soils, and their relationships with community biomass, litterfall C, N and P productions, forest floor turnover rate, and microbial processes in eight mature and old-growth subtropical forests (stand age >80 yr) at Dinghushan Biosphere Reserve, China. Average N:P ratios (mass based) in foliage, litter (L) layer and mixture of fermentation and humus (F/H) layer, and fine roots were 28.3, 42.3, 32.0 and 32.7, respectively. These values are higher than the critical N:P ratios for P limitation proposed (16–20 for foliage, ca. 25 for forest floors). The markedly high N:P ratios were mainly attributed to the high N concentrations of these plant materials. Community biomass, litterfall C, N and P productions, forest floor turnover rate and microbial properties were more strongly related to measures of P than N and frequently negatively related to the N:P ratios, suggesting a significant role of P availability in determining ecosystem production and productivity and nutrient cycling at all the study sites except for one prescribed disturbed site where N availability may also be important. We propose that N enrichment is probably a significant driver of the potential P limitation in the study area. Low P parent material may also contribute to the potential P limitation. In general, our results provided strong evidence supporting a significant role for P availability, rather than N availability, in determining ecosystem primary productivity and ecosystem processes in subtropical forests of China.


Publisher: Public Library of Science

Date Published: 20-December-2012

Author(s): Hou E., Chen C., McGroddy M., Wen D.


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