, Volume 15, Issue 3, pp 387–400

Variable Responses of Lowland Tropical Forest Nutrient Status to Fertilization and Litter Manipulation


    • Centre for Ecology and Hydrology
    • Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute
    • Department of Plant SciencesUniversity of Cambridge
  • S. Joseph Wright
    • Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute
  • Edmund V. J. Tanner
    • Department of Plant SciencesUniversity of Cambridge
  • Joseph B. Yavitt
    • Department of Natural ResourcesCornell University
  • Kyle E. Harms
    • Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute
    • Department of Biological SciencesLouisiana State University
  • Jennifer S. Powers
    • Departments of Ecology, Evolution, & Behavior and Plant BiologyUniversity of Minnesota
  • Michael Kaspari
    • Department of ZoologyUniversity of Oklahoma
  • Milton N. Garcia
    • Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute
  • Benjamin L. Turner
    • Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute

DOI: 10.1007/s10021-011-9516-9

Cite this article as:
Sayer, E.J., Joseph Wright, S., Tanner, E.V.J. et al. Ecosystems (2012) 15: 387. doi:10.1007/s10021-011-9516-9


Predicting future impacts of anthropogenic change on tropical forests requires a clear understanding of nutrient constraints on productivity. We compared experimental fertilization and litter manipulation treatments in an old-growth lowland tropical forest to distinguish between the effects of inorganic nutrient amendments and changes in nutrient cycling via litterfall. We measured the changes in soil and litter nutrient pools, litterfall, and fine root biomass in plots fertilized with nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), or potassium (K), and in litter addition and litter removal treatments during 7 years. Soil inorganic N and litter N increased in double-litter plots but not in N-fertilized plots. Conversely, litter P and soil pools of P and K increased in fertilized plots but not in the double-litter plots. Soil and litter pools of N and K decreased in the no-litter plots. Changes in litterfall with added nutrients or litter were only marginally significant, but fine root biomass decreased with both the litter and the K addition. Differences between the two experiments are mostly attributable to the coupled cycling of carbon and nutrients in litter. Increased nutrient inputs in litter may improve plant uptake of some nutrients compared to fertilization with similar amounts. The litter layer also appears to play a key role in nutrient retention. We discuss our findings in the context of possible impacts of anthropogenic change on tropical forests.


nutrient limitationPanamalitter additionlitter removalnitrogenphosphoruspotassiumlitterfallsoil nutrientsfine root biomass

Supplementary material

10021_2011_9516_MOESM1_ESM.doc (442 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOC 443 kb)

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2012