Nutrient cycling and plant-soil feedbacks along a precipitation gradient in lowland Panama

Louis S. Santiago, Edward A.G. Schuur, Katia Silvera

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

87 Scopus citations


This study addresses patterns of nutrient dynamics on a precipitation gradient (1800-3500 mm y-1) in lowland tropical forest with heterogeneous soil parent material, high plant species diversity and large changes in species composition. Mean foliar concentrations of phosphorus, potassium, calcium and magnesium decreased with increasing precipitation, whereas foliar carbon:nitrogen increased with increasing precipitation. Mean foliar nitrogen:phosphorus varied from 16.4-23.8 suggesting that plant productivity at these sites is limited by phosphorus. Total soil nitrogen increased as a function of foliar litter lignin:nitrogen, whereas net nitrogen mineralization rates decreased with increasing lignin:N indicating that as litter quality decreases, more soil nitrogen is held in soil organic matter and the mineralization of that nitrogen is slower. Extractable phosphorus in soil was negatively correlated with foliar litter lignin:phosphorus, illustrating effects of litter quality on soil phosphorus availability. Overall, the results suggest that variation in plant community composition along this precipitation gradient is tightly coupled with soil nutrient cycling. Much of our understanding of effects of precipitation on nutrient cycling in tropical forest is based on precipitation gradients across montane forest in Hawaii, where species composition and soil parent material are constant. Our results suggest that variation in parent material or species composition may confound predictions developed in model island systems.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)461-470
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Tropical Ecology
Issue number4
StatePublished - Jul 2005
Externally publishedYes


  • Calcium
  • Foliar nutrients
  • Litterfall productivity
  • Magnesium
  • Nitrogen
  • Panama canal
  • Phosphorus
  • Potassium
  • Soil carbon
  • Tropical forest

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics


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