, Volume 19, Issue 1, pp 1-25

Soil nutrient dynamics in response to irrigation of a Panamanian tropical moist forest

  • Joseph B. YavittAffiliated withDepartment of Natural Resources, Fernow Hall, Cornell University
  • , R. Kelman WiederAffiliated withDepartment of Biology, Villanova University
  • , S. Joseph WrightAffiliated withSmithsonian Tropical Research Institute

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We measured concentrations of soil nutrients (0–15 and 30–35 cm depths) before and after the dry season in control and dry-season irrigated plots of mature tropical moist forest on Barro Colorado Island (BCI) in central Panama to determine how soil moisture affects availability of plant nutrients. Dry-season irrigation (January through April in 1986, 1987, and 1988) enhanced gravimetric soil water contents to wet-season levels (ca. 400 g kg−1 but did not cause leaching beyond 0.8 m depth in the soil. Irrigation increased concentrations of exchangeable base cations (Ca2+, Mg2+, K+, Na+), but it had little effect on concentrations of inorganic N (NH4 +C, NO3 and S (SO4 2−). These BCI soils had particularly low concentrations of extractable P especially at the end of the dry season in April, and concentrations increased in response to irrigation and the onset of the rainy season. We also measured the response of soil processes (nitrification and S mineralization) to irrigation and found that they responded positively to increased soil moisture in laboratory incubations, but irrigation had little effect on rates in the field. Other processes (plant uptake, soil organic matter dynamics) must compensate in the field and keep soil nutrient concentrations at relatively low levels.

Key words

nitrogen phosphorus soil fertility tropical forest