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© 2015, US Government. Soil organic matter is an important pool of carbon and nutrients in tropical forests. The majority of this pool is assumed to be relatively stable and to turn over slowly over decades to centuries, although changes in nutrient status can influence soil organic matter on shorter timescales. We measured carbon, nitrogen, and phosphorus concentrations in soil organic matter and leaf litter over an annual cycle in a long-term nutrient addition experiment in lowland tropical rain forest in the Republic of Panama. Total soil carbon was not affected by a decade of factorial combinations of nitrogen, phosphorus, or potassium. Nitrogen addition increased leaf litter nitrogen concentration by 7 % but did not affect total soil nitrogen. Phosphorus addition doubled the leaf litter phosphorus concentration and increased soil organic phosphorus by 50 %. Surprisingly, concentrations of carbon, nitrogen, and phosphorus in soil organic matter declined markedly during the four-month dry season, and then recovered rapidly during the following wet season. Between the end of the wet season and the late dry season, total soil carbon declined by 16 %, total nitrogen by 9 %, and organic phosphorus by between 19 % in control plots and 25 % in phosphorus addition plots. The decline in carbon and nitrogen was too great to be explained by changes in litter fall, bulk density, or the soil microbial biomass. However, a major proportion of the dry-season decline in soil organic phosphorus was explained by a corresponding decline in the soil microbial biomass. These results have important implications for our understanding of the stability and turnover of organic matter in tropical forest soils, because they demonstrate that a considerable fraction of the soil organic matter is seasonally transient, despite the overall pool being relatively insensitive to long-term changes in nutrient status.

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