, Volume 175, Issue 1, pp 375–393 | Cite as

Land-use and soil depth affect resource and microbial stoichiometry in a tropical mountain rainforest region of southern Ecuador

  • Alexander TischerEmail author
  • Karin Potthast
  • Ute Hamer
Ecosystem ecology - Original research


Global change phenomena, such as forest disturbance and land-use change, significantly affect elemental balances as well as the structure and function of terrestrial ecosystems. However, the importance of shifts in soil nutrient stoichiometry for the regulation of belowground biota and soil food webs have not been intensively studied for tropical ecosystems. In the present account, we examine the effects of land-use change and soil depth on soil and microbial stoichiometry along a land-use sequence (natural forest, pastures of different ages, secondary succession) in the tropical mountain rainforest region of southern Ecuador. Furthermore, we analyzed (PLFA-method) whether shifts in the microbial community structure were related to alterations in soil and microbial stoichiometry. Soil and microbial stoichiometry were affected by both land-use change and soil depth. After forest disturbance, significant decreases of soil C:N:P ratios at the pastures were followed by increases during secondary succession. Microbial C:N ratios varied slightly in response to land-use change, whereas no fixed microbial C:P and N:P ratios were observed. Shifts in microbial community composition were associated with soil and microbial stoichiometry. Strong positive relationships between PLFA-markers 18:2n6,9c (saprotrophic fungi) and 20:4 (animals) and negative associations between 20:4 and microbial N:P point to land-use change affecting the structure of soil food webs. Significant deviations from global soil and microbial C:N:P ratios indicated a major force of land-use change to alter stoichiometric relationships and to structure biological systems. Our results support the idea that soil biotic communities are stoichiometrically flexible in order to adapt to alterations in resource stoichiometry.


Ecological stoichiometry Stoichiometric flexibility Soil food web Forest disturbance Secondary succession 



We thank the two anonymous reviewers for their highly valuable comments which substantially improved the manuscript. The authors gratefully acknowledge the support by the DFG (German Research Foundation), subproject B3.1 within the research Unit 816 “Biodiversity and Sustainable Management of a Megadiverse Mountain Ecosystem in South Ecuador” (HA 4597/1-2). We thank Manuela Unger, Martin Werisch and Guido Ehrlich (TU Dresden) for their assistance in collecting and preparing soil samples for laboratory measurements.

Supplementary material

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Supplementary material 1 (PDF 66 kb)
442_2014_2894_MOESM2_ESM.pdf (92 kb)
Supplementary material 2 (PDF 91 kb)
442_2014_2894_MOESM3_ESM.pdf (42 kb)
Supplementary material 3 (PDF 42 kb)


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© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Institute of Soil Science and Site EcologyDresden University of TechnologyTharandtGermany
  2. 2.Institute of Landscape EcologyWWU, University of MünsterMünsterGermany

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