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Functional Composition of Tree Communities Changed Topsoil Properties in an Old Experimental Tropical Plantation


Forest biogeochemistry is strongly determined by the interaction between the tree community and the topsoil. Functional strategies of tree species are coupled to specific chemical leaf traits, and thus also to litter composition, which affects mineral soil characteristics. The limited understanding on this interaction is mainly based on shorter-term common garden experiments in temperate forest, and needs to be extended to other forest types and climates if we want to understand the universality of this linkage. In particular, for highly diverse tropical forests, our understanding of this interaction remains limited. Using an old experimental plantation within the central Congo basin, we examined the relationship between leaf and litter chemical composition and topsoil properties. Canopy, litter and topsoil characteristics were measured and we determined how the community-level leaf and litter chemical composition altered the topsoil carbon, major plant nutrients and exchangeable cation concentration, acidity and pH over the last eight decades. We found that functional composition strongly affected topsoil pH. In turn, topsoil pH strongly determined the soil total carbon and available phosphorus, total nitrogen and exchangeable potassium. Our results indicate that, as observed in temperate common garden experiments, trees alter chemical topsoil properties primarily through soil acidification, differently induced by functional composition of the tree community. The strong link between this community-level composition and topsoil characteristics, on a highly representative soil type for the tropics, improves our understanding of tropical forests biogeochemistry.

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This research is part of the COBIMFO project, funded by the Belgian Science Policy Office (BELSPO). Marijn Bauters holds a VLADOC grant from the Flemish Interuniversity Cooperation (VLIR-UOS). The authors thank the people from the INERA (Institut National pour l’Etude et la Recherche Agronomique), for their intensive help with the inventory and the species identification, as well as all the people from the University of Kisangani (UNIKIS) who have also contributed to this publication.

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Correspondence to Marijn Bauters.

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M. B. collected and analysed the data, and wrote the paper, under the supervision of P. B., H. V., K. V. and E. A., S. D., G. B.; P. V. analysed soil samples and contributed to the data analysis.

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Bauters, M., Verbeeck, H., Doetterl, S. et al. Functional Composition of Tree Communities Changed Topsoil Properties in an Old Experimental Tropical Plantation. Ecosystems 20, 861–871 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10021-016-0081-0

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  • common garden
  • soil carbon
  • tree species effects
  • functional identity