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Is there a feedback between N availability in siliceous and calcareous soils and Cistus albidus leaf chemical composition?

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The effects of the Mediterranean shrub Cistus albidus on N cycling were studied in two siliceous (granitic-derived and schistic-derived) and one calcareous soil differentiated by their texture and acidity. We aimed to find out whether soils under C. albidus were affected by the release of C compounds from the canopy, and whether phenolic compound production in C. albidus changed depending on the soil N availability. Calcareous soils, with higher clay content and polyvalent cations, had a higher organic matter content but lower net N mineralization rates than siliceous soils, and C. albidus growing therein were characterized by lower foliar N and phenolic compound concentrations. Under C. albidus, all types of soils had higher phenolic compound concentrations and polyphenol oxidase activity. C. albidus presence and leachate addition decreased net N mineralization and increased soil respiration in siliceous soils, and these changes were related to a higher soil C/N ratio under the canopy. In calcareous soils, however, no significant effects of plant presence on N cycling were found. In the studied plant-soil system it is not likely that higher phenolic compound concentrations were selected during evolution to enhance nutrient conservation in soil because (1) higher phenolic compound concentrations were not associated with lower soil fertilities, (2) C compounds released from C. albidus accelerated N cycling by increasing N immobilization and no evidence was found for decreased gross N mineralization, and (3) soil organic N content was more related to soil chemical and physical properties than to the effects of the C. albidus canopy.

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The authors would like to thank Marta Mastrantonio, Jordi Martínez, Roger Puig, Silvia Artesero, Bernat Castells and Francesc Cebrià for field assistance. We also thank Josep Maria Alcañiz, Ramon Vallejo and David W. Valentine for critically reading this manuscript, and Oriol Ortiz for his expertise help in soil analyses. E.C. had a predoctoral fellowship (FPI) from the Ministerio de Educacion y Cultura (Spain) in collaboration with Carburos Metalicos SA. We are thankful for financial support from CICYT grants REN-2001–0003 and REN-2001–0278 (Spanish Government).

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Correspondence to Eva Castells.

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Castells, E., Peñuelas, J. Is there a feedback between N availability in siliceous and calcareous soils and Cistus albidus leaf chemical composition?. Oecologia 136, 183–192 (2003).

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  • Leachates
  • Mediterranean vegetation
  • N cycling
  • N mineralization
  • Phenolic compounds