, Volume 8, Issue 4, pp 352–372

The Influence of Nutrient Availability on Soil Organic Matter Turnover Estimated by Incubations and Radiocarbon Modeling

  • Margaret S. Torn
  • Peter M. Vitousek
  • Susan E. Trumbore
Original Articles


We investigated the decomposability of soil organic matter (SOM) along a chronosequence of rainforest sites in Hawaii that form a natural fertility gradient and at two long-term fertilization experiments. To estimate turnover times and pool sizes of organic matter, we used two independent methods: (1) long-term incubations and (2) a three-box soil model constrained by radiocarbon measurements. Turnover times of slow-pool SOM (the intermediate pool between active and passive pools) calculated from incubations ranged from 6 to 20 y in the O horizon and were roughly half as fast in the A horizon. The radiocarbon-based model yielded a similar pattern but slower turnover times. The calculation of the 14C turnover times is sensitive to the lag time between photosynthesis and incorporation of organic C into SOM in a given horizon. By either method, turnover times at the different sites varied two- or threefold in soils with the same climate and vegetation community. Turnover times were fastest at the sites of highest soil fertility and were correlated with litter decay rates and primary productivity. However, experimental fertilization at the two least-fertile sites had only a small and inconsistent effect on turnover, with N slowing turnover and P slightly speeding it at one site. These results support studies of litter decomposition in suggesting that while plant productivity can respond rapidly to nutrient additions, decomposition may respond much more slowly to added nutrients.


carbon nitrogen phosphorus tropical forest 14microbial biomass decomposition 


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, Inc. 2005

Authors and Affiliations

  • Margaret S. Torn
    • 1
    • 2
    • 3
  • Peter M. Vitousek
    • 2
  • Susan E. Trumbore
    • 3
  1. 1.Lawrence Berkeley National LaboratoryBerkeleyUSA
  2. 2.Department of Biological SciencesStanford UniversityStanfordUSA
  3. 3.Earth System ScienceUniversity of CaliforniaIrvineUSA

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