Articles | Volume 12, issue 19
Research article
07 Oct 2015
Research article |  | 07 Oct 2015

Annual litterfall dynamics and nutrient deposition depending on elevation and land use at Mt. Kilimanjaro

J. Becker, H. Pabst, J. Mnyonga, and Y. Kuzyakov

Abstract. Litterfall is one of the major pathways connecting above- and below-ground processes. The effects of climate and land-use change on carbon (C) and nutrient inputs by litterfall are poorly known. We quantified and analyzed annual patterns of C and nutrient deposition via litterfall in natural forests and agroforestry systems along the unique elevation gradient of Mt. Kilimanjaro.

Tree litter in three natural (lower montane, Ocotea and Podocarpus forests), two sustainably used (homegardens) and one intensively managed (shaded coffee plantation) ecosystems was collected on a biweekly basis from May 2012 to July 2013. Leaves, branches and remaining residues were separated and analyzed for C and nutrient contents.

The annual pattern of litterfall was closely related to rainfall seasonality, exhibiting a large peak towards the end of the dry season (August–October). This peak decreased at higher elevations with decreasing rainfall seasonality. Macronutrients (N, P, K) in leaf litter increased at mid elevation (2100 m a.s.l.) and with land-use intensity. Carbon content and micronutrients (Al, Fe, Mn, Na) however, were unaffected or decreased with land-use intensity.

While leaf litterfall decreased with elevation, total annual input was independent of climate. Compared to natural forests, the nutrient cycles in agroforestry ecosystems were accelerated by fertilization and the associated changes in dominant tree species.

Final-revised paper