, Volume 10, Issue 1, pp 159–171 | Cite as

Uplift, Erosion, and Phosphorus Limitation in Terrestrial Ecosystems

  • Stephen PorderEmail author
  • Peter M. Vitousek
  • Oliver A. Chadwick
  • C. Page Chamberlain
  • George E. Hilley


Primary productivity on old, weathered soils often is assumed to be limited by phosphorus (P), especially in the lowland tropics where climatic conditions promote the rapid depletion of rock-derived nutrients. This assumption is based on a static view of soils weathering in place with no renewal of the bedrock source. In reality, advection of material through the soil column introduces a spatially variable supply of rock-derived nutrients. This flux is dependent on the residence time of soil, which can range from a few hundred years in rapidly uplifting collisional mountain belts to tens of millions of years in tectonically quiescent tropical cratons. We modeled the effects of tectonic uplift, erosion, and soil depth on the advection of P through the soil column and P availability, calibrating rate of change in biologically available P over time with data from two basaltic chronosequences in Hawai’i and a series of greywacke terraces in New Zealand. Combining our model with the global distribution of tectonic uplift rates and soil depths, we identified tectonic settings that are likely to support P-depleted ecosystems—assuming that tectonic uplift and erosion are balanced (that is, landscape development has reached steady state). The model captures the occurrence of transient P limitation in rapidly uplifting young ecosystems where mineral weathering is outpaced by physical erosion—a likely occurrence where biological N fixation is important. However, we calculate that P depletion is unlikely in areas of moderate uplift, such as most of Central America and Southeast Asia, due to the continuous advection of P into the rooting zone. Finally, where soil advection is slow, such as the Amazon Basin, we expect widespread P depletion in the absence of exogenous nutrient inputs.

Key words:

uplift erosion nutrients phosphorus soil age limitation. 



The authors would like to thank Tim Crews for his generous provision of detailed P fractions from the LSAG, and Sarah Richardson and Troy Baisden for assistance with obtaining data from the Franz Joseph. Dr. Donald DeAngelis and two anonymous reviewers provided useful comments on an earlier version of the manuscript. Funding was provided by a grant from the Stanford Institute for the Environment, Environmental Interdisciplinary Initiatives Program “Carbon Dioxide Sequestration by Forests: The Importance of Cation and Phosphorous Limitation and Its Relationship to Landscape Evolution.” This document is STGL contribution number 06–04.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  • Stephen Porder
    • 1
    Email author
  • Peter M. Vitousek
    • 2
  • Oliver A. Chadwick
    • 3
  • C. Page Chamberlain
    • 1
  • George E. Hilley
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Ecology and Evolutionary BiologySt BrownProvidenceUSA
  2. 2.Department of Biological SciencesStanford UniversityStanfordUSA
  3. 3.Department of GeographyUC Santa BarbaraSanta BarbaraUSA

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