Articles | Volume 7, issue 1
05 Jan 2010
 | 05 Jan 2010

Regional and seasonal patterns of litterfall in tropical South America

J. Chave, D. Navarrete, S. Almeida, E. Álvarez, L. E. O. C. Aragão, D. Bonal, P. Châtelet, J. E. Silva-Espejo, J.-Y. Goret, P. von Hildebrand, E. Jiménez, S. Patiño, M. C. Peñuela, O. L. Phillips, P. Stevenson, and Y. Malhi

Abstract. The production of aboveground soft tissue represents an important share of total net primary production in tropical rain forests. Here we draw from a large number of published and unpublished datasets (n=81 sites) to assess the determinants of litterfall variation across South American tropical forests. We show that across old-growth tropical rainforests, litterfall averages 8.61±1.91 Mg ha−1 yr−1 (mean ± standard deviation, in dry mass units). Secondary forests have a lower annual litterfall than old-growth tropical forests with a mean of 8.01±3.41 Mg ha−1 yr−1. Annual litterfall shows no significant variation with total annual rainfall, either globally or within forest types. It does not vary consistently with soil type, except in the poorest soils (white sand soils), where litterfall is significantly lower than in other soil types (5.42±1.91 Mg ha−1 yr−1). We also study the determinants of litterfall seasonality, and find that it does not depend on annual rainfall or on soil type. However, litterfall seasonality is significantly positively correlated with rainfall seasonality. Finally, we assess how much carbon is stored in reproductive organs relative to photosynthetic organs. Mean leaf fall is 5.74±1.83 Mg ha−1 yr−1 (71% of total litterfall). Mean allocation into reproductive organs is 0.69±0.40 Mg ha−1 yr−1 (9% of total litterfall). The investment into reproductive organs divided by leaf litterfall increases with soil fertility, suggesting that on poor soils, the allocation to photosynthetic organs is prioritized over that to reproduction. Finally, we discuss the ecological and biogeochemical implications of these results.

Final-revised paper