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Functional Composition of Tree Communities Changed Topsoil Properties in an Old Experimental Tropical Plantation

Bauters, Marijn, Verbeeck, Hans, Doetterl, Sebastian, Ampoorter, Evy, Baert, Geert, Vermeir, Pieter, Verheyen, Kris, Boeckx, Pascal
Ecosystems 2017 v.20 no.5 pp. 861-871
acidity, basins, biogeochemistry, canopy, carbon, exchangeable potassium, forest types, leaves, mineral soils, nitrogen content, nutrients, pH, phosphorus, soil acidification, temperate forests, topsoil, trees, tropical forests, tropics
Forest biogeochemistry is strongly determined by the interaction between the tree community and the topsoil. Functional strategies of tree species are coupled to specific chemical leaf traits, and thus also to litter composition, which affects mineral soil characteristics. The limited understanding on this interaction is mainly based on shorter-term common garden experiments in temperate forest, and needs to be extended to other forest types and climates if we want to understand the universality of this linkage. In particular, for highly diverse tropical forests, our understanding of this interaction remains limited. Using an old experimental plantation within the central Congo basin, we examined the relationship between leaf and litter chemical composition and topsoil properties. Canopy, litter and topsoil characteristics were measured and we determined how the community-level leaf and litter chemical composition altered the topsoil carbon, major plant nutrients and exchangeable cation concentration, acidity and pH over the last eight decades. We found that functional composition strongly affected topsoil pH. In turn, topsoil pH strongly determined the soil total carbon and available phosphorus, total nitrogen and exchangeable potassium. Our results indicate that, as observed in temperate common garden experiments, trees alter chemical topsoil properties primarily through soil acidification, differently induced by functional composition of the tree community. The strong link between this community-level composition and topsoil characteristics, on a highly representative soil type for the tropics, improves our understanding of tropical forests biogeochemistry.