Articles | Volume 13, issue 22
Research article
17 Nov 2016
Research article |  | 17 Nov 2016

Changes in soil carbon and nutrients following 6 years of litter removal and addition in a tropical semi-evergreen rain forest

Edmund Vincent John Tanner, Merlin W. A. Sheldrake, and Benjamin L. Turner

Abstract. Increasing atmospheric CO2 and temperature may increase forest productivity, including litterfall, but the consequences for soil organic matter remain poorly understood. To address this, we measured soil carbon and nutrient concentrations at nine depths to 2 m after 6 years of continuous litter removal and litter addition in a semi-evergreen rain forest in Panama. Soils in litter addition plots, compared to litter removal plots, had higher pH and contained greater concentrations of KCl-extractable nitrate (both to 30 cm); Mehlich-III extractable phosphorus and total carbon (both to 20 cm); total nitrogen (to 15 cm); Mehlich-III calcium (to 10 cm); and Mehlich-III magnesium and lower bulk density (both to 5 cm). In contrast, litter manipulation did not affect ammonium, manganese, potassium or zinc, and soils deeper than 30 cm did not differ for any nutrient. Comparison with previous analyses in the experiment indicates that the effect of litter manipulation on nutrient concentrations and the depth to which the effects are significant are increasing with time. To allow for changes in bulk density in calculation of changes in carbon stocks, we standardized total carbon and nitrogen on the basis of a constant mineral mass. For 200 kg m−2 of mineral soil (approximately the upper 20 cm of the profile) about 0.5 kg C m−2 was “missing” from the litter removal plots, with a similar amount accumulated in the litter addition plots. There was an additional 0.4 kg C m−2 extra in the litter standing crop of the litter addition plots compared to the control. This increase in carbon in surface soil and the litter standing crop can be interpreted as a potential partial mitigation of the effects of increasing CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere.

Short summary
Tropical rain forest are likely to grow more, and produce more litterfall, as a result of increasing temperature and carbon dioxide. We experimentally doubled litterfall in large plots in forest in Panama; there were also removal plots. After 6 years of continuously adding litter, we found that soil organic matter and many plant-available nutrients were increased down to as far as 30 cm into the soil. This increase in organic carbon in the soil reduces the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.
Final-revised paper