, Volume 6, Issue 8, pp 762–772 | Cite as

Erosion and the Rejuvenation of Weathering-derived Nutrient Supply in an Old Tropical Landscape

  • Peter VitousekEmail author
  • Oliver Chadwick
  • Pamela Matson
  • Steven Allison
  • Louis Derry
  • Lisa Kettley
  • Amy Luers
  • Esther Mecking
  • Valerie Monastra
  • Stephen Porder


Studies of long-term soil and ecosystem development on static geomorphic surfaces show that old soils become depleted in most rock-derived nutrients. As they are depleted, however, static surfaces also are dissected by fluvial erosion. This fluvial erosion leads to colluvial soil transport on the resulting slopes, which in turn can rejuvenate the supply of weathering-derived nutrients to plants. We evaluated the influence of erosion and consequent landscape evolution on nutrient availability along a slope on the Island of Kaua’i, near the oldest, most nutrient-depleted site on a substrate age gradient across the Hawaiian Islands. Noncrystalline minerals characteristic of younger Hawaiian soils increased from 3% of the soil on the static constructional surface at the top of the slope to 13% on the lower slope, and the fraction of soil phosphorus (P) that was occluded (and hence unavailable) decreased from 80% to 56% at midslope. Foliar nitrogen and P concentrations in Metrosideros polymorpha increased from 0.82% and 0.062% to 1.13% and 0.083% on the constructional surface and lower slope, respectively. The increase in foliar P over a horizontal difference of less than 250 m represents nearly half of the total variation in foliar P observed over 4.1 million years of soil and ecosystem development in Hawai’i. The fraction of foliar strontium (Sr) derived from weathering of Hawaiian basalt was determined using 87Sr:86Sr; it increased from less than 6% on the constructional surface to 13% and 31% on lower slope and alluvial positions. Erosional processes increase both nutrient supply on this slope and the fine-scale biogeochemical diversity of this old tropical landscape; it could contribute to the relatively high level of species diversity observed on Kaua’i.


fluvial erosion Hawai’i landscape evolution nitrogen nutrient availability phosphorus soil mineralogy strontium isotopes toposequence 



We thank the Joseph Souza Center and the Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources’ State Parks and Forestry and Wildlife Divisions for access to field sites and logistical support; Heraldo Farrington and David Penn for assistance in the field; and Douglas Turner, Adina Payton, and Bettina Wiegand for help with laboratory analyses and Sr isotope determinations. We thank Dan Richter for a very helpful review of an earlier draft of this article. This research was supported by a grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, and by NSF grant DEB-0108492.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag New York, Inc. 2003

Authors and Affiliations

  • Peter Vitousek
    • 1
    Email author
  • Oliver Chadwick
    • 2
  • Pamela Matson
    • 3
  • Steven Allison
    • 1
  • Louis Derry
    • 4
  • Lisa Kettley
    • 1
    • 5
  • Amy Luers
    • 3
  • Esther Mecking
    • 3
    • 6
  • Valerie Monastra
    • 4
    • 7
  • Stephen Porder
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Biological SciencesStanford University, Stanford, California 94305USA
  2. 2.Department of GeographyUniversity of California, Santa Barbara, California 93106USA
  3. 3.Department of Geological and Environmental SciencesStanford University, Stanford, California 94305USA
  4. 4.Department of GeologyCornell University, Ithaca, New York 14853USA
  5. 5..CH2M Hill, Inc., 155 Grand Avenue, Suite 1000, Oakland, California 94612USA
  6. 6..Burke Mountain Academy, PO Box 78, East Burke, Vermont 05832USA
  7. 7..Geosyntec Consultants, 629 Massachusetts Avenue, Boxborough, Massachusetts 01719USA

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