Effects on nutrient cycling of conifer restoration in a degraded tropical montane forest
Background and aims
Exotic coniferous species have been used widely in restoration efforts in tropical montane forests due to their tolerance to adverse conditions and rapid growth, with little consideration given to the potential ecological benefits provided by native tree species. The aim of this study was to elucidate differences in litterfall and nutrient flow between a montane oak forest (Quercus humboldtii Bonpl.) and exotic coniferous plantations of pine (Pinus patula Schltdl. & Cham.) and cypress (Cupressus lusitanica Mill.) in the Colombian Andes.
Litter production, litter decomposition rate, and element composition of leaf litter were monitored during 3 years.
Litter production in the oak forest and pine plantation was similar, but considerably lower in the cypress plantation . Similar patterns were observed for nutrient concentrations in litterfall, with the exception of Ca which was three times higher in the cypress plantation. The annual decay rate of litter was faster in the montane oak forest than in either of the exotic coniferous plantations. The potential and net return of nutrients to the forest floor were significantly higher in oak forest than in the exotic coniferous plantations.
Future restoration programs should consider new species that can emulate the nutrient flow of native broadleaf species instead of exotic species that tend to impoverish soil nutrient stocks in tropical montane forests.