Plant and Soil

, 307:113 | Cite as

No short-term change in soil properties following four-fold litter addition in a Costa Rican rain forest

  • Tana E. Wood
  • Deborah Lawrence
Regular Article


We experimentally manipulated forest floor litter to investigate the influence of litter quality and quantity on soil properties over the short-term (weeks to months) in a wet tropical forest in NE Costa Rica. The study included old growth forest on high fertility soils, old growth forest on low fertility soils, and secondary forest on intermediate fertility soils. Forest floor litter was removed from a 16 m2 area and added to an adjacent 4 m2 area in March 2003, resulting in a one to four-fold increase in the annual litter input to the forest floor. We created three addition, three removal and three control plots per forest type. We measured treatment effects on variation in soil moisture, temperature, pH, and Bray-1 P (plant available) over a 5-month period that captured the dry-wet season transition. Litter manipulation had no effect on any of the soil properties measured during the 5-month study period. Significant variability through time and a similar temporal pattern across the three forest stands suggest that climatic variability is driving short-term patterns in these soil properties rather than seasonal inputs of litter. In general, soils were warmer, drier and more basic with higher available P during dry season months. Even in wet tropical forests, small variability in climate can play an important role in soil dynamics over periods of weeks to months. Although litter manipulation did not influence soil properties over the 5-month study period, a longer lag may exist between the timing of litter inputs and the influence of that litter on soil properties, especially plant available P.


Bray-1 P La Selva Litter manipulation pH Phosphorus Seasonality Soil moisture Temperature 



We would like to thank Deborah A. Clark and David B. Clark for providing site-level data for the two old growth sites included in this study. This research was funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and the University of Virginia. Support for the Carbono Project plots and the long-term litterfall measurements in them was provided by the National Science Foundation (DEB-9629245), the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, and Conservation International's team Initiative.


  1. Aerts R (1997) Climate, leaf litter chemistry and leaf litter decomposition in terrestrial ecosystems: a triangular relationship. Oikos 79:439–449CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Arunachalam K, Arunachalam A (1999) Recovery of a felled subtropical, humid forest: microclimate and soil properties. Ekologia-Bratislava 18:287–300Google Scholar
  3. Attiwill PM, Adams MA (1993) Nutrient cycling in forests. New Phytol 124:561–582CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Berendse F (1994) Litter decomposability—a neglected component of plant fitness. J Ecol 82:187–190CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Binkley D, Giardina C (1998) Effects of dominant plant species on soil during succession in nutrient-poor ecosystems. Biogeochemistry 42:73–88CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Bray RH, Kurtz LT (1945) Determination of total, organic and available forms of phosphorus in soils. Soil Sci 59:39–45CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Brown S, Lugo AE (1990) Tropical secondary forests. J Trop Ecol 6:1–32CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Campo J, Maass M, Jaramillo VJ, Martinez-Yrizar A, Sarukhan J (2001) Phosphorus cycling in a Mexican tropical dry forest ecosystem. Biogeochemistry 53:161–179CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Chazdon RL, Brenes AR, Alvarado BV (2005) Effects of climate and stand age on annual tree dynamics in tropical second-growth rain forests. Ecology 86:1808–1815CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Cleveland CC, Townsend AR, Constance BC, Ley RE, Schmidt SK (2004) Soil microbial dynamics in Costa Rica: seasonal and biogeochemical constraints. Biotropica 36:184–195Google Scholar
  11. Cleveland CC, Reed SC, Townsend AR (2006) Nutrient regulation of organic matter decomposition in a tropical rain forest. Ecology 87:492–503PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Didham RK, Lawton JH (1999) Edge structure determines the magnitude of changes in microclimate and vegetation structure in tropical forest fragments. Biotropica 31:17–30Google Scholar
  13. Doff Sotta E, Meir P, Malhi Y, Donato Nobre A, Hodnetts M, Grace J (2004) Soil CO2 efflux in a tropical forest in the Central Amazon. Global Change Biol 10:601–617CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Espeleta JF, Clark DA (2007) Multi-scale variation in fine root biomass in a tropical rain forest: a seven-year study. Ecol Monogr 77:377–404CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Ewel JJ (1976) Litter fall and leaf decomposition in a tropical forest succession in eastern Guatemala. J Ecol 64:293–307CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Hobbie S (1992) Effects of plant species on nutrient cycling. Trends Ecol Evol 7:336–339CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Jenny H (1941) Factors of soil formation. McGraw-Hill, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  18. Killham K (1994) Soil ecology. Cambridge University Press, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  19. Kleber M, Schwendenmann L, Veldkamp E, Rößner J, Jahn R (2007) Halloysite versus gibbsite: silicon cycling as a pedogenetic process in two lowland neotropical rain forest soils of La Selva, Costa Rica. Geoderma 138:1–11CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Ladd JN, Parsons JW, Amato M (1977) Studies of nitrogen immobilization and mineralization in calcareous soils—I. Distribution of immobilized nitrogen amongst soil fractions of different particle size and density. Soil Biol Biochem 9:309–318CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Lawrence D (2005) Regional-scale variation in litter production and seasonality in tropical dry forests of southern Mexico. Biotropica 37:561–570CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Lodge DJ, McDowell WH, McSwiney CP (1994) The importance of nutrient pulses in tropical forests. Trend Ecol Evol 9:384–387CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Martius C, Hofer H, Garcia MVB, Rombke J, Hanagarth W (2004a) Litter fall, litter stocks and decomposition rates in rainforest and agroforestry sites in central Amazonia. Nutrient Cycl Agroecosyst 68:137–154CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Martius C, Hofer H, Garcia MVB, Rombke J, Forster B, Hanagarth W (2004b) Microclimate in agroforestry systems in Central Amazonia: does canopy closure matter to soil organisms. Agr Syst 60:291–304CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. McGrath DA, Comerford NB, Duryea ML (2000) Litter dynamics and monthly fluctuations in soil phosphorus availability in an Amazonian agroforest. Forest Ecol Manag 131:167–181CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. McGrath DA, Smith CK, Gholz HL, Oliveira FD (2001) Effects of land-use change on soil nutrient dynamics in Amazonia. Ecosystems 4:625–645CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Ogée J, Brunet Y (2002) A forest floor model for heat and moisture including a litter layer. J Hydrol 255:212–233CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Powers JS, Schlesinger WH (2002) Relationships among soil carbon distributions and biophysical factors at nested spatial scales in rain forests of Northeastern Costa Rica. Geoderma 109:165–190CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Putuhena WM, Cordery I (1996) Estimation of interception capacity of the forest floor. J Hydrol 180:283–299CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Read L, Lawrence D (2003) Litter nutrient dynamics during succession in dry tropical forests of the Yucatan: regional and seasonal effects. Ecosystems 6:747–761CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Reich PB, Oleksyn J, Modrzynski J, Mrozinski P, Hobbie SE, Eissenstat DM, Chorover J, Chadwick OA, Hale CM, Tjoelker MG (2005) Linking litter calcium, earthworms and soil properties: a common garden test with 14 tree species. Ecol Lett 8:811–818CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Sayer EJ (2005) Using experimental manipulation to assess the roles of leaf litter in the functioning of forest ecosystems. Biol Rev 80:1–31CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Sayer EJ, Tanner EVJ, Cheesman AW (2006) Increased litterfall changes fine root distribution in a moist tropical forest. Plant Soil 281:5–13CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Singh JS, Raghubanshi AS, Singh RS, Sriastava SC (1989) Microbial biomass acts as a source of plantnutrients in dry tropical forest and savanna. Nature 388:499–500CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Stevenson FJ (1986) Cycles of soil: carbon, nitrogen, phosphorus, sulfur, micronutrients. Wiley, New York, p 380Google Scholar
  36. Swift MJ, Heal OW, Anderson JM (1979) Decomposition in terrestrial ecosystems. Blackwell, OxfordGoogle Scholar
  37. Stark NM, Jordan CF (1978) Nutrient retention by the root mat of an Amazonian rain forest. Ecology 59:434–437CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Torn MS, Vitousek PM, Trumbore SE (2005) The influence of nutrient availability on soil organic turnover estimated by incubations and radiocarbon modeling. Ecosystems 8:352–372CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Van den Driessche R (1974) Prediction of mineral nutrient status of trees by foliar analysis. Bot Rev 40:347–394CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Vasconcelos HL, Laurance WF (2005) Influence of habitat, litter type, and soil invertebrates on leaf-litter decomposition in a fragmented Amazonian landscape. Oecologia 144:456–462PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Vitousek P (1982) Nutrient cycling and nutrient use efficiency. Am Nat 119:553–572CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Walsh RPD, Newbery DM (1999) The ecoclimatology of Danum, Sabah in the context of the world’s rainforest regions, with particular reference to dry periods and their impact. Philos T Roy Soc B 354:1869–1883CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Wood TE, Lawrence D, Clark DA (2005) Variation in leaf litter nutrients of a Costa Rican rain forest is related to precipitation. Biogeochemistry 73:417–437CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Wood TE, Lawrence D, Clark DA (2006) Determinants of leaf litter nutrient cycling in a tropical rain forest: fertility versus topography. Ecosystems 9:700–710CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Wood TE, Lawrence D, Clark DA, Chazdon RL (2008) Rain forest productivity and nutrient cycling in response to large-scale litter manipulation. Ecology (in press)Google Scholar
  46. Wedin DA, Tilman D (1990) Species effects on nitrogen cycling—a test with perennial grasses. Oecologia 84:433–441Google Scholar
  47. Xuluc-Tolosa FJ, Vester HFM, Ramrez-Marcial N, Castellanos-Albores J, Lawrence D (2003) Leaf litter decomposition of tree species in three successional phases of tropical dry secondary forest in Campeche, Mexico. Forest Ecol Manag 174:401–412CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Zech, Senesi WN, Guggenberger G, Kaiser K, Lehmann J, Miano TM, Miltner A, Schroth G (1997) Factors controlling humification and mineralization of soil organic matter in the tropics. Geoderma 79:117–161CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Environmental SciencesUniversity of VirginiaCharlottesvilleUSA
  2. 2.Department of Environmental Science, Policy, and ManagementUniversity of CaliforniaBerkeleyUSA

Personalised recommendations