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Large losses of inorganic nitrogen from tropical rainforests suggest a lack of nitrogen limitation

Brookshire, E. N. J., Gerber, Stefan, Menge, Duncan N. L., Hedin, Lars O.
Ecology letters 2012 v.15 no.1 pp. 9-16
ecology, nitrogen, temperate forests, temperature, tropical rain forests, tropics
Ecology Letters (2011) 14: 9–16 ABSTRACT: Inorganic nitrogen losses from many unpolluted mature tropical forests are over an order of magnitude higher than losses from analogous temperate forests. This pattern could either reflect a lack of N limitation or accelerated plant–soil N cycling under tropical temperatures and moisture. We used a simple analytical framework of the N cycle and compared our predictions with data of N in stream waters of temperate and tropical rainforests. While the pattern could be explained by differences in N limitation, it could not be explained based on up‐regulation of the internal N cycle without invoking the unlikely assumption that tropical plants are two to four times less efficient at taking up N than temperate plants. Our results contrast with the idea that a tropical climate promotes and sustains an up‐regulated and leaky – but N‐limited – internal N cycle. Instead, they are consistent with the notion that many tropical rainforests exist in a state of N saturation.