Main content area

Effects of urbanization on plant phosphorus availability in broadleaf and needleleaf subtropical forests

Huang, Juan, Liu, Juxiu, Zhang, Wei, Cai, Xi'an, Liu, Lei, Zheng, Mianhai, Mo, Jiangming
The Science of the total environment 2019 v.684 pp. 50-57
Actinobacteria, Gram-negative bacteria, air pollution, broadleaved evergreen forests, broadleaved trees, forest ecosystems, forest health, leaves, nitrogen, phosphorus, plant growth, plantations, principal component analysis, river deltas, rivers, soil acidification, soil microorganisms, surveys, tropical forests, urban areas, urbanization, China
Urbanization, the migration of populations from rural to urban areas, has been causing great stress on natural environments, leading to air pollution and nitrogen (N) deposition, negatively affecting forest health. Although there is evidence that urbanization has changed forest N cycling, little is known about whether urbanization also changes the availability of phosphorus (P), which is important for plant growth and forest productivity. To address this question, we carried out a survey in the Pearl River Delta region, the world's largest urban area in southern China, using two types of representative forests, the evergreen broadleaf forests (BFs) and pine plantations (PPs). The leaf N:P ratios in the two forest types were high (20–50) with a significant increasing pattern along the rural-to-urban gradient. The ratios of leaf P:K and P:Na declined along the rural-to-urban gradient, whereas leaf P content did not change in BF but decreased in PP along the rural-to-urban gradient, suggesting that leaf P became limiting along urbanization. The abundance of actinomycetes and gram-negative bacteria decreased along the rural-to-urban gradient, indicating the negative effects of urbanization on soil microorganisms. Principal component analysis indicated that divergent key factors respond to the urbanization and affect plant P limitation in the two forest types. In BF, broadleaf trees showed a greater response to N deposition from urbanization indicating direct leaf N uptake from N deposition is a key factor for plant P limitation. Alternatively, in PP, our findings suggest soil acidification is an important factor accelerating plant P limitation. Our study revealed that urbanization intensifies plant P limitation in subtropical forests, and the effects vary depending on forest types. Our findings provide empirical information to support the management of forest ecosystems and evaluation of urbanization effects on forest health.