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Oecologia. 2004 Apr;139(2):267-76. Epub 2004 Jan 31.

Rapid development of phosphorus limitation in temperate rainforest along the Franz Josef soil chronosequence.

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Landcare Research, PO Box 69, Lincoln, Canterbury 8152, New Zealand.


The aim of this study was to examine how shifts in soil nutrient availability along a soil chronosequence affected temperate rainforest vegetation. Soil nutrient availability, woody plant diversity, composition and structure, and woody species leaf and litter nutrient concentrations were quantified along the sequence through ecosystem progression and retrogression. In this super-wet, high leaching environment, the chronosequence exhibited rapid soil development and decline within 120000 years. There were strong gradients of soil pH, N, P and C, and these had a profound effect on vegetation. N:P(leaf) increased along the chronosequence as vegetation shifted from being N- to P- limited. However, high N:P(leaf) ratios, which indicate P-limitation, were obtained on soils with both high and low soil P availability. This was because the high N-inputs from an N-fixing shrub caused vegetation to be P-limited in spite of high soil P availability. Woody species nutrient resorption increased with site age, as availability of N and P declined. Soil P declined 8-fold along the sequence and P resorption proficiency decreased from 0.07 to 0.01%, correspondingly. N resorption proficiency decreased from 1.54 to 0.26%, corresponding to shifts in mineralisable N. Woody plant species richness, vegetation cover and tree height increased through ecosystem progression and then declined. During retrogression, the forest became shorter, more open and less diverse, and there were compositional shifts towards stress-tolerant species. Conifers (of the Podocarpaceae) were the only group to increase in richness along the sequence. Conifers maintained a lower N:P(leaf) than other groups, suggesting superior acquisition of P on poor soils. In conclusion, there was evidence that P limitation and retrogressive forests developed on old soils, but N limitation on very young soils was not apparent because of inputs from an abundant N-fixing shrub.

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