, Volume 173, Issue 2, pp 161-170

Leaf litter decomposition and nutrient dynamics in a subtropical forest after typhoon disturbance

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Abstract

Decomposition of typhoon-generated and normal leaf litter and their release patterns for eight nutrient elements were investigated over 3 yr using the litterbag technique in a subtropical evergreen broad-leaved forest on Okinawa Island, Japan. Two common tree species, Castanopsis sieboldii and Schima wallichii, representative of the vegetation and differing in their foliar traits, were selected. The elements analyzed were N, P, K, Ca, Mg, Na, Al, Fe and Mn. Dry mass loss at the end of study varied in the order: typhoon green leaves > typhoon yellow leaves > normal leaves falling for both species. For the same litter type, Schima decomposed faster than Castanopsis. Dry mass remaining after 2 yr of decomposition was positively correlated with initial C:N and C:P ratios. There was a wide range in patterns of nutrient concentration, from a net accumulation to a rapid loss in decomposition. Leaf litter generated by typhoons decomposed more rapidly than did the normal litter, with rapid losses for N and P. Analysis of initial quality for the different litter types showed that the C:P ratios were extremely high (range 896 − 2467) but the P:N ratios were < 0.05 (range 0.02 − 0.04), indicating a likely P-limitation for this forest. On average 32% less N and 60% less P was retranslocated from the typhoon-generated green leaves than from the normal litter for the two species, Castanopsis and Schima. An estimated 2.13 g m–2 yr–1 more N and 0.07 g m–2 yr–1 more P was transferred to the soil as result of typhoon disturbances, which were as high as 52% of N and 74% of P inputted from leaf litter annually in a normal year. Typhoon-driven maintenance of rapid P cycling appears to be an important mechanism by which growth of this Okinawan subtropical forest is maintained.