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Agroforestry Systems

, Volume 38, Issue 1–3, pp 99–120 | Cite as

Nutrient cycling under mixed-species tree systems in southeast Asia

  • P. K. Khanna
Article

Abstract

Eucalyptus and Acacia are two tree genera that are commonly used in industrial plantations and as components of agroforestry systems in southeast Asia. These fast-growing trees are mostly grown in monocultures. However, questions are now being raised about the long-term sustainability of their growth as well as their effects on site quality. Losses of N and P from the site through biomass harvest and during site preparation constitute a major nutrient drain. As an alternative to monocultures, mixed-species cultures which include at least one N2-fixing tree species can improve plant productivity and soil N dynamics. Among the various aspects of N dynamics in such stands, export of N during biomass harvest and inputs by the N2-fixing component are the most important.

Reported estimates of the amount of N fixed by acacia and other N2-fixing trees are highly variable, depending on inherited plant characteristics, tree age, site factors (e.g., drought), soil fertility (e.g., available P, metal toxicities) and unreliable methods of measuring N2-fixation. Of the available techniques for assessing N2-fixation by trees, the total N difference method (TND) is the simplest. The contribution of roots to assessments of N2-fixation is recognized but rarely measured.

For short-rotation mixed-species plantations, the amount and time of N transfer from N2-fixing trees to non-N2-fixing trees are important issues to consider when attempting to develop productive nutrient management strategies. Based on limited information from trials in southeast Asia, it appears that acacia fixes substantial amounts of N during the first few years of establishment and a significant amount of that N is transferred to adjacent eucalypts, thereby improving the growth and nutrition of the eucalypts. The presumed transfer of N from acacias to eucalypts during the early stages of plantation development probably results from belowground turnover of roots and nodules because aboveground litter decomposition is slight at this stage, and contributes little to the overall N dynamics.

The available information on P cycling in mixed-species stands, during the early stages of stand growth, provides inconclusive evidence as to whether the availability of soil P increases, despite indications of higher levels of phosphatase activity in the fine roots of nitrogen-fixing trees. This would imply that additional inputs of P as fertilizer are required to remove any P deficiency in mixed-species stands. Long-term observations are required for better understanding of the nutritional and growth benefits of including N2-fixing trees in mixed-species stands.

acacia eucalyptus N2-fixing trees N-transfer P-dynamics 

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Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 1997

Authors and Affiliations

  • P. K. Khanna
    • 1
  1. 1.Division of Forestry and Forest ProductsCSIROACTAustralia

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