Seasonal changes and treatment effects on soil inorganic nutrients following a decade of fertilizer addition in a lowland tropical forest

Benjamin L. Turner, Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute
Joseph B. Yavitt, Cornell University
Kyle E. Harms, Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute
Milton N. Garcia, Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute
Tania E. Romero, Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute
S. Joseph Wright, Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute


We conducted monthly measurements of extractable soil nutrients, including N, P, base cations, and micronutrients, as well as the potential toxin Al, in a long-term fertilization experiment in lowland tropical rain forest in the Republic of Panama. Our prediction was that the response of individual nutrients to seasonal climate and fertilizer addition would vary depending on the nature of their biogeochemical cycles. We detected significant seasonal variation in soil pH and all nutrients measured, although only extractable K concentrations were greater in the early wet season, while extractable phosphate varied little in plots that did not receive P addition. A decade of N addition increased soil nitrate, had no effect on extractable ammonium, and decreased soil pH (∼0.8 units in plots receiving only N). The decline in pH caused a corresponding decline in extractable base cations (Ca and K) and increased extractable Al, highlighting an important but poorly understood consequence of long-term atmospheric N deposition onto tropical forests. A decade of P addition increased extractable phosphate by 50-fold, indicating that chronic fertilizer addition has overcome the high phosphate sorption capacity of the soil. Potassium addition without N increased extractable soil K by 91%, but only by 25% when K was added in combination with N, suggesting that the previously reported N × K interactive effect on trunk growth rates could be a true response to N addition. Extractable Cu and Zn were increased twofold by micronutrient fertilizer addition, were reduced in the dry season, but were not affected by N addition (i.e., soil acidification). We conclude that the response of extractable nutrients to seasonal climate and fertilizer addition varies among nutrients, and suggest that greater attention be paid to the biological implications of acidification in response to long-term atmospheric N deposition onto strongly-weathered tropical forest soils. © Soil Science Society of America.