Biogeochemical recuperation of lowland tropical forest during succession

Benjamin W. Sullivan, Rachel L. Nifong, Megan K. Nasto, Silvia Alvarez-Clare, Camie M. Dencker, Fiona M. Soper, Kevin T. Shoemaker, F. Yoko Ishida, Joana Zaragoza-Castells, Eric A. Davidson, Cory C. Cleveland

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

24 Scopus citations


High rates of land conversion and land use change have vastly increased the proportion of secondary forest in the lowland tropics relative to mature forest. As secondary forests recover following abandonment, nitrogen (N) and phosphorus (P) must be present in sufficient quantities to sustain high rates of net primary production and to replenish the nutrients lost during land use prior to secondary forest establishment. Biogeochemical theory and results from individual studies suggest that N can recuperate during secondary forest recovery, especially relative to P. Here, we synthesized 23 metrics of N and P in soil and plants from 45 secondary forest chronosequences located in the wet tropics to empirically explore (1) whether there is a consistent change in nutrients and nutrient cycling processes during secondary succession in the biome; (2) which metrics of N and P in soil and plants recuperate most consistently; (3) if the recuperation of nutrients during succession approaches similar nutrient concentrations and fluxes as those in mature forest in ~100 yr following the initiation of succession; and (4) whether site characteristics, including disturbance history, climate, and soil order are significantly related to nutrient recuperation. During secondary forest succession, nine metrics of N and/or P cycling changed consistently and substantially. In most sites, N concentrations and fluxes in both plants and soil increased during secondary succession, and total P concentrations increased in surface soil. Changes in nutrient concentrations and nutrient cycling processes during secondary succession were similar whether mature forest was included or excluded from the analysis, indicating that nutrient recuperation in secondary forest leads to biogeochemical conditions that are similar to those of mature forest. Further, of the N and P metrics that recuperated, only soil total P and foliar δ15N were strongly influenced by site characteristics like climate, soils, or disturbance history. Predictable nutrient recuperation across a diverse and productive ecosystem may support future forest growth and could provide a means to quantify successful restoration of ecosystem function in secondary tropical forest beyond biomass or species composition.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere02641
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 2019


  • disturbance
  • nitrogen
  • nutrient cycling
  • phosphorus
  • plants
  • soil


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