, Volume 26, Issue 5, pp 629-644

Blowing litter across a landscape: effects on ecosystem nutrient flux and implications for landscape management

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Abstract

Lateral flows in landscape mosaics represent a fundamentally important process in landscape ecology, but are still poorly understood in general. For example, windblown litter nutrient transfer across a landscape has rarely been studied from an ecosystem perspective. In this study we measured the litter nutrient transfer from an Acacia mangium plantation to a Dimocarpus longan orchard in an agroforestry landscape for 3 years from January 2002 to December 2004. About 11% of the total litterfall of the acacia plantation were transported to the longan orchard annually, accounting for ca. 9–59% of the total litter nutrient input of the longan orchard. The windblown litter transfer showed high spatial variation mainly caused by wind speed and directions. Slope positions 5 m away from the source acacia plantation received significantly greater amount of allochthonous acacia litter than those 10 m away, and the northwest-facing slope of the longan orchard received 2 to 3-fold more litter than the southeast- and south-facing slopes because of the prevailing southeasterly wind in the region. To explore how different management practices may influence the litterfall, leaf production, and soil nutrient status of the two ecosystems, we developed a Meta-Ecosystem Litter Transfer (MELT) model to simulate the processes of litter-related transformation (production, deposition, and decomposition) and transfer (wind- and management-driven movement). Our simulation results suggest that less than 30% of acacia litter should be transferred to the longan orchard in order for the acacia plantation to sustain itself and maximize production of the longan. Connectivity of nutrient flow between adjacent ecosystems as shown here leads to a functional meta-ecosystem with higher landscape-scale production of ecosystem services. That is, managing this connectivity through landscape design or active litter transfers can lead to large changes in overall landscape functioning and service production.