, Volume 37, Issue 1, pp 63–75 | Cite as

Nutrient limitation and soil development: Experimental test of a biogeochemical theory



Walker & Syers (1976) proposed a conceptual model that describesthe pattern and regulation of soil nutrient pools and availability during long-term soil and ecosystem development. Their model implies that plantproduction generally should be limited by N on young soils and by P on oldsoils; N and P supply should more or less equilibrate onintermediate-aged soils. We tested the application of this model to nutrientlimitation, using a well characterized substrate age sequence in Hawaiianmontane rain forest. Earlier experiments had evaluated nutrient limitationin forests on a young (300 y) and an old (4,100,000 y) substrate on the samedevelopmental sequence; N alone limited tree growth on the youngsubstrate, while P alone did so on the old one. An additional fertilizerexperiment based on replicated treatments with N, P, and all othernutrients combined, applied in individually and in all factorialcombinations, was established in an intermediate-aged site in theLaupahoehoe Forest Reserve, Hawaii. Here, diameter increments of thedominant tree Metrosideros polymorpha increased slightly with Nadditions, and nearly doubled when N and P were added together.Additions of elements other than N and P had no significant effecton growth. These results show that N and P had equilibrated (relativeto plant requirements) in the intermediate aged site. Together withthe earlier experiments, these results suggest that the Walker and Syersmodel provides a useful starting point for explaining the nature anddistribution of nutrient limitation in forest ecosystems.

nutrient limitation soil development nitrogen phosphorus chronosequence Hawai'i 


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© Kluwer Academic Publishers 1997

Authors and Affiliations

    • 1
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Biological SciencesStanford UniversityStanfordU.S.A

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