, Volume 142, Issue 2, pp 187-201

Fine-root biomass and soil properties in a semideciduous and a lower montane rain forest in Panama

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Abstract

The distribution of root biomass and physical and chemical properties of the soils were studied in a semideciduous and in a lower montane rain forest in Panama. Roots and soil samples were taken by means of soil cores (25 cm deep) and divided into five, 5-cm deep sections. Soils were wet-sieved to retrieve the roots that were classified in four diameter classes: very fine roots (<1 mm), fine roots (1–2 mm), medium roots (2–5 mm) and coarse roots (5–50 mm). Soil samples were analyzed for organic carbon, total nitrogen, available phosphorus, exchangeable bases, cation exchange capacity, pH, aluminium and exchangeable acidity. Total root biomass measured with the soil corer (roots <50 mm in diameter) was not different between the forests (9.45 t ha-1), while biomass of very fine roots was larger in the mountains (2.00 t ha-1) than in the lowlands (1.44 t ha-1). The soils in the semideciduous forest were low in available phosphorus, while in the mountains, soils had low pH, high exchangeable aluminium and exchangeable acidity, and low concentration of exchangeable bases. Phosphorus was in high concentration only in the first 5 cm of the soil. In both forests, there was an exponential reduction of root biomass with increasing depth, and most of the variation in the vertical distribution of roots less than 2 mm in diameter was explained by the concentration of nitrogen in the soils. The results of this study support the hypothesis that a large root biomass in montane forests is related to nutrients in low concentration and diluted in organic soils with high CEC and low bulk density, and that fine root biomass in tropical forests in inversely related to calcium availability but not a phosphorus as has been suggested for other forests.