Plant Ecology

, Volume 216, Issue 2, pp 247–262 | Cite as

Litterfall, carbon and nitrogen cycling in a southern hemisphere conifer forest dominated by kauri (Agathis australis) during drought

  • Cate Macinnis-NgEmail author
  • Luitgard Schwendenmann


Under future climates, droughts will be more frequent and severe in parts of New Zealand, but the impact of drought has not been studied in New Zealand forests. Litterfall is one of the major fluxes of forest carbon. We explored seasonal and annual patterns of litterfall, carbon and nitrogen cycling in wet (2012) and dry (2013) years at Huapai Scientific Reserve, west Auckland. During 2012, rainfall was close to average with a wet summer, while the summer rainfall in the period from January to April 2013 was only 1/3 of the volume that fell during the same period in 2012, causing significant reductions in soil moisture. For the wet year, total annual litterfall was 9.00 ± 0.44 t ha−1, while during the dry year, there was a 72 % increase to 15.46 ± 0.85 t ha−1. Kauri constituted 80 % of the basal area of the plot and also contributed 80 % of the litter. The majority additional litter in the dry year was kauri leaves and twigs. Drought impacted slightly more heavily on the C cycle (with an 85 % increase during the drought year) than the N cycle (with a 69 % increase during the drought year) because concentrations of N in kauri leaves were lower during the drought period, due to nutrient reabsorption. Drought clearly enhances litterfall in this forest, stimulating the carbon and nitrogen cycles. These results have implications for forest C and N budgets as well as fire management practices due to the build-up of dry litter during drought.


Litter biomass Gymnosperm Drought adaptations Carbon cycle Nitrogen cycle Agathis australis 



We thank the following students and interns for assisting with litter collecting, sorting and weighing: Roland Lafaele-Pereira, Andrew Wheeler, Katharina Achterberg, Chris Goodwin, Tristan Webb, Malani Sundaram, Morgan Campbell and Linda-Jane Keegan. Andrew Wheeler assisted with experimental set-up. This research was funded by the Faculty Research Development Fund through a grant from the Faculty of Science, the University of Auckland to LS and CM.

Supplementary material

11258_2014_432_MOESM1_ESM.eps (99 kb)
Fig. S1. Annual biomass of different classes (kauri, other conifer and angiosperm + fern) and contributions of different types of material (leaves, twigs/branches, bark and reproductive material) within each group. Note the scale change for annual biomass. (EPS 99 kb)
11258_2014_432_MOESM2_ESM.eps (91 kb)
Fig. S2. Seasonal variations in litter biomass (a) proportional contributions of the main fractions (b), mass of carbon in litterfall (c), proportional carbon (d), mass of nitrogen in litterfall (e) and proportional nitrogen (f). (EPS 90 kb)
11258_2014_432_MOESM3_ESM.eps (82 kb)
Fig. S3. Ecosystem nitrogen use efficiencies for both 2012 and 2013 calculated as the slope of the relationship between nitrogen in litter and total litter biomass. Each point on the plot represents one fortnightly sampling event. y = 211x, R 2 = 0.94 (EPS 81 kb)


  1. Aerts R (1996) Nutrient resoption from senescing leaves of perennials: are there general patterns? J Ecol 84:597–608CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Alvarez JA, Villagra PE, Rossi BE, Cesca EM (2009) Spatial and temporal litterfall heterogeneity generated by woody species in Central Monte desert. Plant Ecol 205:295–303. doi: 10.1007/s11258-009-9618-z CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Bachelet D, Neilson RP, Lenihan JM, Drapek RJ (2001) Climate change effects on vegetation distribution and carbon budget in the United States. Ecosystems 4:164–185. doi: 10.1007/s10021-001-0002-7 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Bellingham PJ, Morse CW, Buxton RP, Bonner KI, Mason NWH, Wardle DA (2013) Litterfall, nutrient concentrations and decomposability of litter in a New Zealand temperate montane rain forest. NZ J Ecol 37:162–171Google Scholar
  5. Berg B, Meentemeyer V (2001) Litterfall in some European coniferous forests as dependent on climate: a synthesis. Can J For Res 31:292–301. doi: 10.1139/cjfr-31-2-292 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Boersma M, van Schaik CP, Hogeweg P (1991) Nutrient gradients and spatial structure in tropical forests: a model study. Ecol Model 55:219–240CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Borchert R (1994) Soil and stem water storage determine phenology and distribution of tropical dry forest trees. Ecol 75:1437–1449CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Brando PM, Nepstad DC, Davidson EA, Trumbore SE, Ray D, Camargo P (2008) Drought effects on litterfall, wood production and belowground carbon cycling in an Amazon forest: results of a throughfall reduction experiment. Philos Trans R Soc B 363:1839–1848. doi: 10.1098/rstb.2007.0031 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Bréda N, Huc R, Granier A, Dreyer E (2006) Temperate forest trees and stands under severe drought: a review of ecophysiological responses, adaptation processes and long-term consequences. Ann For Sci 63:625–644. doi: 10.1051/forest:2006042 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Chave J, Navarrete D, Almeida S, Álvarez E, Aragão LEOC, Bonal D, Châtelet P, Silva-Espejo JE, Goret J-Y, von Hildebrand P, Jiménez E, Patiño S, Peñuela MC, Phillips OL, Stevenson P, Malhi Y (2009) Regional and seasonal patterns of litterfall in tropical South America. Biogeosciences 7:43–55. doi: 10.5194/bg-7-43-2010 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Chaves MM, Maroco JP, Pereira JS (2003) Understanding plant responses to drought—from genes to whole plant. Funct Plant Biol 30:239–264. doi: 10.1071/FP02076 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Ciais P, Reichstein M, Viovy N, Granier A, Ogée J, Allard V et al (2005) Europe-wide reduction in primary productivity caused by the heat and drought in 2003. Nature 437:529–533. doi: 10.1038/nature03972 PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Clark A, Tait A (2008) Drought, agricultural production and climate change—a way forward to a better understanding. National Institute of Water and Atmosphere Client Report WLG2008-33, WellingtonGoogle Scholar
  14. Clark DA, Brown S, Kicklighter DW, Chambers JQ, Thomlinson JR, Ni J (2001) Measuring net primary production in forests: concepts and field methods. Ecol Appl 11:356–370CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Coronado-Molina C, Alvarez-Guillen H, Day JW Jr, Reyes E, Perez BC, Vera-Herrera F, Twilley R (2012) Litterfall dynamics in carbonate and deltaic mangrove ecosystems in the Gulf of Mexico. Wetl Ecol Manage 20:123–136. doi: 10.1007/s11273-012-9249-3 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Cowan PE, Waddington DC (1991) Litterfall under hinau, Elaeocarpus dentatus, in lowland podocarp/mixed hardwood forest, and the impact of brushtail possums, Trichosurus vulpecula. NZ J Bot 29:385–394CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Cowan PE, Waddington DC, Daniel MJ, Bell BD (1985) Aspects of litter production in a New Zealand lowland podocarp/broadleaf forest. NZ J Bot 23:191–199. doi: 10.1080/0028825X.1985.10425325 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Cuevas E, Lugo A (1998) Dynamics of organic matter and nutrient return from litterfall in stands of ten tropical tree plantation species. For Ecol Manage 112:263–279CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Cuevas E, Medina E (1986) Nutrient dynamics within amazonian forest ecosystems I. Nutrient flux in fine litterfall and efficiency of nutrient utilization. Oecologia 68:466–472CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Curtis PS, Hanson PJ, Bolstad P, Barford C, Randolph JC, Schmid HP, Wilson KB (2002) Biometric and eddy-covariance based estimates of annual carbon storage in five eastern North American deciduous forests. Agric For Meteorol 113:3–19CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Dixon RK, Brown S, Houghton RA, Solomon AM, Trexler MC, Wisniewski J (1994) Carbon pools and flux of global forest ecosystems. Science 263:185–191PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Ecroyd CE (1982) Biological flora of New Zealand 8. Agathis australis (D. Don) Lindl. (Araucariaceae) kauri. NZ J Bot 20:17–36CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Enright NJ (1999) Litterfall dynamics in a mixed conifer-angiosperm forest in northern New Zealand. J Biogeog 26:149–157CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Enright NJ (2001) Nutrient accessions in a mixed conifer-angiopserm forest in northern New Zealand. Austral Ecol 26:618–629CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Ford C, Hubbard R, Vose J (2011) Quantifying structural and physiological controls on variation in canopy transpiration among planted pine and hardwood species in the southern Appalachians. Ecohydrology 4:183–195CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Fowler AM, Boswijk G, Lorrey AM, Gergis J, Pirie M, McCloskey SPJ, Palmer JG, Wunder J (2012) Multi-centennial tree-ring record of ENSO-related activity in New Zealand. Nat Clim Chang 2:172–176. doi: 10.1038/nclimate1374 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Hanya G, Aiba S (2010) Fruit fall in tropical and temperate forests: implications for frugivore diversity. Ecol Res 25:1081–1090. doi: 10.1007/s11284-010-0733-z CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Hättenschwiler S, Aeschlimann B, Coûteaux M, Roy J, Bonal D (2008) High variation in foliage and leaf litter chemistry among 45 tree species of a neotropical rainforest community. New Phytol 179:165–175. doi: 10.1111/j.1469-8137.2008.02438.x PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. IPCC (2013) Climate Change 2013: The Physical Science Basis. In: Stocker TF, Qin D, Plattner G-K, Tignor M, Allen SK, Boschung J, Nauels A, Xia Y, Bex V, Midgley PM (eds) Contribution of Working Group I to the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Cambridge University Press, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  30. Kozlowski T, Pallardy S (2002) Acclimation and adaptive responses of woody plants to environmental stresses. Bot Rev 68:270–334CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Liu C, Westman CJ, Berg B, Kutsch W, Wang GZ, Man R, Ilvesniemi H (2004) Variation in litterfall-climate relationships between coniferous and broadleaf forests in Eurasia. Glob Ecol Biogeogr 13:105–114CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Lodge DJ, Scatena FN, Asbury CE, Sanchez MJ (1991) Fine litterfall and related nutrient inputs resulting from Hurricane Hugo in subtropical wet and lower montane rain forests of Puerto Rico. Biotropica 23:336–342CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Macinnis-Ng C, Wyse S, Veale A, Schwendenmann L, Clearwater M (In review) Sap flow of the southern conifer, Agathis australis during wet and dry summers. Trees submitted January 2014Google Scholar
  34. Macinnis-Ng C, Schwendenmann L, Clearwater M (2013) Radial variation of sap flow of kauri (Agathis australis) during wet and dry summers. Acta Hort 991:205–214Google Scholar
  35. Marchin R, Zeng H, Hoffmann W (2010) Drought-deciduous behaviour reduces nutrient losses from temperate deciduous trees under severe drought. Oecologia 163:845–854Google Scholar
  36. Morrison IK (1991) Effect of trap dimensions on mass of litterfall collected in an Acer saccharum stand in northern Ontario. Can J For Res 21:939–941CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Moser G, Schuldt B, Hertel D, Horna V, Barus H, Leuschner C (2014) Replicated throughfall exclusion experiment in an Indonesian prehumid rainforest: wood production, litterfall and fine root growth under simulated drought. Glob Chang BiolGoogle Scholar
  38. Ogden J (1985) An introduction to plant demography with special reference to New Zealand trees. NZ J Bot 23:751–772CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Pérez CA, Armesto JJ, Torrealba C, Carmona MR (2003) Litterfall dynamics and nitrogen use efficiency in two evergreen temperate rainforests of southern Chile. Austral Ecol 28:591–600CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Pineda-García F, Horacio P, Meinzer F (2013) Drought resistance in early and late secondary successional species from a tropical dry forest: the interplay between xylem resistance to embolism, sapwood water storage and leaf shedding. Plant Cell Environ 36:405–418PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Pittermann J, Sperry JS, Hacke UG, Wheeler JK, Sikkema EH (2006) Inter-tracheid pitting & the hydraulic efficiency of conifer wood: the role of tracheid allometry & cavitation protection. Am J Bot 93:1265–1273PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Porteous A, Mullan B (2013) The 2012–13 drought: an assessment and historical perspective. Ministry of Primary Industries Technical Paper: 2012/18, WellingtonGoogle Scholar
  43. Portillo-Estrada M, Korhonen JFJ, Pihlatie M, Pumpanen J, Frumau AKF, Morillas L, Tosens T, Niinemets U (2013) Inter- and intra-annual variations in canopy fine litterfall and carbon and nitrogen inputs to the forest floor in two European coniferous forests. Ann For Sci 70:367–379. doi: 10.1007/s13595-013-0273-0 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Prescott CE (2002) The influence of the forest canopy on nutrient cycling. Tree Physiol 22:1193–1200PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Salinger MJ (1980) New Zealand climate: I. precipitation patterns. Mon Weather Rev 108:1892–1904CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Salinger MJ, Griffiths GM (2001) Trends in New Zealand daily temperature an rainfall extremes. Int J Climatol 21:1437–1452. doi: 10.1002/joc.694 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Salinger MJ, Mullan AB (1999) New Zealand climate: temperature and precipitation variations in their links with atmospheric circulation 1930–1994. Int J Climatol 19:1049–1071CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Schauber EM, Kelly D, Turchin P, Simon C, Lee WG, Allen RB, Payton IJ, Wilson PR, Cowan PE, Brockie RE (2002) Masting by eighteen New Zealand plant species: the role of temperature as a synchronising cue. Ecology 83:1214–1225CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Silvester WB (2000) The biology of kauri (Agathis australis) in New Zealand II. Nitrogen cycling in four kauri forest remnants. New Zeal J Bot 38:205–220CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Silvester WB, Orchard TA (1999) The biology of kauri (Agathis australis) in New Zealand. I. Production, biomass, carbon storage and litterfall in four forest remnants. NZ J Bot 37:553–571CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Staelens J, Nachtergale L, de Schrijver A, Vanhellemont M, Wuyts K, Verheyen K (2011) Spatio-temporal litterfall dynamics in a 60-year-old mixed deciduous forest. Ann For Sci 68:89–98CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Steward G, Beveridge A (2010) A review of NZ kauri (Agathis australis (D.Don) Lindl.): its ecology, history, growth & potential for management for timber. New Zeal J For Sci 40:33–59Google Scholar
  53. Sweetapple PJ, Fraser KW (1992) Litterfall from a mixed red beech (Nothofagus fusca)-silver beech (Nothofagus menziesii) forest, central North Island, New Zealand. NZ J Bot 30:263–269. doi: 10.1080/0028825X.1992.10412907 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Tanner EVJ (1980) Litterfall in montane rain forests of Jamaica and its relation to climate. J Ecol 68:833–848CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Thomas G, Ogden J (1983) The scientific reserves of Auckland University I. General introduction to their history, vegetation, climate and soils. Tane 29:143–161Google Scholar
  56. Valachovic YS, Caldwell BA, Cromack K Jr, Griffiths RP (2004) Leaf litter chemistry controls on decomposition of Pacific Northwest trees and woody shrubs. Can J For Res 34:2131–2147CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Van der Molen MK, Dolman AJ, Ciais P, Eglin T, Gobron N, Law BE et al (2011) Drought and ecosystem carbon cycling. Agric For Meteorol 151:765–773. doi: 10.1016/j.agrformet.2011.01.018 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. Vitousek P (1982) Nutrient cycling and nutrient use efficiency. Am Nat 119:553–572CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  59. Webb CJ, Kelly D (1993) The reproductive biology of the New Zealand flora. Trends Ecol Evol 8:442–447PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  60. Wilson VR, Gould KS, Lovel PH, Aitken-Christie J (1998) Branch morphology and abscission in kauri, Agathis australis (Araucariaceae). NZ J Bot 36:135–140CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  61. Wunder J, Perry G, McCloskey S (2010) Structure and composition of a mature kauri (Agathis australis) stand at Huapai Scientific Reserve, Waitakere Range New Zealand. Tree-Ring site report No. 33. University of Auckland School of Environment Working Paper No. 39Google Scholar
  62. Wyse SV, Burns BR (2013) Effects of Agathis australis (New Zealand kauri) leaf litter on germination and seedling growth differs among plant species. New Zeal J Ecol 37:178–183Google Scholar
  63. Wyse SV, Burns BR, Wright SD (2013a) Distinctive vegetation communities are associated with the long-lived conifer Agathis australis (New Zealand kauri, Araucariaceae) in New Zealand rainforests. Austral Ecol doi:  10.1111/aec.12089
  64. Wyse S, Macinnis-Ng C, Burns B, Clearwater M, Schwendenmann L (2013b) Species assemblage patterns around a dominant emergent tree are associated with drought resistance. Tree Physiol 33:1269–1283PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  65. Yang Y, Chen G, Guo J, Xie J, Wang X (2007) Soil respiration and carbon balance in a subtropical native forest and two managed plantations. Plant Ecol 193:71–84. doi: 10.1007/s11258-006-9249-6 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  66. Yavitt JB, Wieder RK, Wright SJ (2004) Seasonal drought and dry-season irrigation influence leaf-litter nutrients and soil enzymes in a moist, lowland forest in Panama. Austral Ecol 29:177–188CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  67. Zhang H, Yuan W, Dong W, Liu S (2014) Seasonal patterns of litterfall in forest ecosystem worldwide. Ecol Complex. doi:  10.1016/j.ecocom.2014.01.003
  68. Zhao M, Running SW (2010) Drought-induced reduction in global terrestrial net primary production from 2000 through 2009. Science 329:940–943. doi: 10.1126/science.1192666 PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of EnvironmentUniversity of AucklandAucklandNew Zealand

Personalised recommendations