The Ecology Driving Nutrient Fluxes in Forests

  • B. Stadler
  • E. Mühlenberg
  • B. Michalzik
Part of the Ecological Studies book series (ECOLSTUD, volume 173)


Phytophagous insects in the canopies of forest trees play a considerable role in the cycling of nutrients and energy not only in outbreak situations, but also at endemic density levels. However, nutrient fluxes through ecosystems are often studied without a detailed knowledge of the biology of the organisms that affect them. Here, we will address the key features of aphids, adelgids and lepidopterous larvae, which affect ecosystem processes via specific life-history characteristics, fluctuations in population size and trophic relationships with other canopy organisms. For example, aphids and adelgids produce large quantities of sugary excreta and wax wool respectively, which are a source of organic carbon in the canopy. Aphids show erratic population fluctuations, while an introduced pest species such as the hemlock woolly adelgid kills its host within 10–15 years. The winter moth often shows cyclic population fluctuations spanning several years without killing the various host species. These different features in the ecology of canopy insects are expected to influence the availability of energy within the canopies of trees and subsequent processes in nutrient cycling, which eventually affect the forest floor. The availability of energy-rich excreta of canopy herbivores significantly increased the growth of epiphytic micro-organisms, the organic carbon concentrations in throughfall and decreased the nitrogen concentrations beneath trees infested by aphids and lepidoptera. Beneath adelgidinfested hemlock trees, however, significantly higher concentrations of nitrogen were found in the throughfall, which is due to a significant increase in needle N content of infested trees. Therefore, we suggest that the many facets in the biology of the herbivores need to be known to understand the direction of change in flows of nutrient beneath infested trees. Results on vertical nutrient and energy flows are reviewed from different temperate forest ecosystems, and new areas of research linking biotic processes and ecosystem functions are identified.


Dissolve Organic Carbon Concentration Dissolve Organic Nitro Nutrient Flux Dissolve Organic Nitro Concentration Infested Tree 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


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Authors and Affiliations

  • B. Stadler
  • E. Mühlenberg
  • B. Michalzik

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