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Erosion and landscape development affect plant nutrient status in the Hawaiian Islands

Abstract

We quantified variation in plant nutrient concentrations and provenance along catenas in landscapes of three different ages (0.15, 1.4, and 4.1 ma) in the Hawaiian Islands. Strontium (Sr) isotopes demonstrate that erosion provides a renewed source of rock-derived nutrients to slopes in landscapes of all ages, in some cases reversing a million years of ecosystem development in a distance of 100 m. However the effects of this input vary with landscape age. Plants on uneroded surfaces in a 0.15-ma landscape derive ~20% of their Sr from local bedrock (foliar 87Sr/86Sr~0.7085), while on adjacent slopes this increases to ~80% (foliar 87Sr/86Sr~0.7045). Despite this shift in provenance, foliar N and P do not vary systematically with slope position. Conversely, eroded slopes in a 4.1-ma landscape show smaller increases in rock-derived cations relative to stable uplands (foliar 87Sr/86Sr~0.7075 vs 0.7090), but have >50% higher foliar N and P. These results demonstrate both that erosion can greatly increase nutrient availability in older landscapes, and that the ecological effects of erosion vary with landscape age. In addition, there can be as much biogeochemical variation on fine spatial scales in eroding landscapes as there is across millions of years of ecosystem development on stable surfaces.

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Acknowledgements

We thank the Joseph Souza Center and the State Parks and Forestry and Wildlife Divisions of the Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources for access to field sites and logistical support; Heraldo Farrington for assistance in the field; and Douglas Turner for assistance with laboratory analyses. Tom Bullen, John Fitzpatrick, and Joe Wooden assisted with Sr isotope analysis. This research was supported by a Stanford Graduate Fellowhip to S.P., and a grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

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Correspondence to Stephen Porder.

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Porder, S., Paytan, A. & Vitousek, P.M. Erosion and landscape development affect plant nutrient status in the Hawaiian Islands. Oecologia 142, 440–449 (2005). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00442-004-1743-8

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s00442-004-1743-8

Keywords

  • Hawaii
  • Nutrient availability
  • Soil erosion
  • Strontium
  • Catena