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    Author(s): JOHN J. EWEL
    Date: 2006
    Source: Ecological Applications, 16(2), :490–502
    Publication Series: Miscellaneous Publication
    PDF: Download Publication  (276 B)


    Among the many factors that potentially influence the rate at which nitrogen (N) becomes available to plants in terrestrial ecosystems are the identity and diversity of species composition, frequency of disturbance or stand turnover, and time. Replicated suites of investigator-designed communities afforded an opportunity to examine the effects of those factors on net N mineralization over a 12-year period. The communities consisted of largestature perennial plants, comprising three tree species (Hyeronima alchorneoides, Cedrela odorata, and Cordia alliodora), a palm (Euterpe oleracea), and a large, perennial herb (Heliconia imbricata). Trees were grown in monoculture and in combination with the other two life-forms; tree monocultures were subjected to rotations of one or four years, or like the three-life-form systems, left uncut. The work was conducted on fertile soil in the humid lowlands of Costa Rica, a site with few abiotic constraints to plant growth. Rates of net N mineralization and nitrification were high, typically in the range of 0.2–0.8 lgg1d1, with net nitrification slightly higher than net mineralization, indicating preferential uptake of ammonium (NH4þ) by plants and microbes. Net rates of N mineralization were about 30% lower in stands of one of the three tree species, Hyeronima, than in stands of the other two. Contrary to expectations, short-rotation management (one or four years) resulted in higher net rates of N mineralization than in uncut stands, whether the latter were composed of a single tree species or a combination of life-forms. Neither additional species richness nor replenishment of leached N augmented mineralization rates. The net rate at which N was supplied tended to be lowest in stands where demand for N was highest. Careful choice of species, coupled with low frequency of disturbance, can lead to maintenance of N within biomass and steady rates of within-system circulation, whereas pulses, whether caused by cutting and replanting or by the phenological traits of the species selected or combined, subject N supplies to leaching loss.

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    biodiversity, Cedrela, Cordia, Costa Rica, disturbance, Euterpe, Heliconia, Hyeronima, mineralization, nitrification, nitrogen, plant crop rotation.

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