Original Paper

European Journal of Forest Research

, Volume 133, Issue 1, pp 121-129

First online:

Leaf and litter nitrogen and phosphorus in three forests with low P supply

  • Julio CampoAffiliated withInstituto de Ecología, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México Email author 
  • , Juan F. GallardoAffiliated withInstituto de Recursos Naturales y Agrobiología, CSIC
  • , Guillermina HernándezAffiliated withInstituto de Ecología y Sistemática

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We compared the N and P contents of the main labile components of nutrient cycles in three different forest ecosystems [a tropical evergreen forest (TEF); a tropical dry forest (TDF); and a Mediterranean temperate forest (MTF)] with low P supply. A mass-balance approach was used to estimate mean residence times for organic matter, N and P in the forest floor, and to examine the flexibility of N and P intra-system cycling in the three forest ecosystems. For this purpose, we combined published values of N and P in foliage, litterfall, forest floor litter and mineral soils in these three forest ecosystems. The results of our analysis were consistent with the widely held belief that the N content of leaves (both green and senescent) and litter increases with increasing temperatures. In contrast, the data did not support the hypothesis that leaf P content decreases with increasing temperatures and precipitation: leaf and litterfall P contents were higher in both tropical forests than they were in the temperate forest. The TEF had the highest P content of the three forests studied. The mass-balance analysis indicated that although P mineralization in the TDF can run ahead of litter decomposition stoichiometry when P is in short supply, flexibility is much reduced or absent in the TEF and the MTF. Our analysis provides additional evidence of the importance of climatic factors in forest ecosystem processes and highlights the role of flexibility in ecosystem nutrient cycling, especially for P in ecosystems with a limited P supply.


Mediterranean temperate forest N:P ratio Nutrient cycling Nutrient limitation Tropical forests