Erosion and landscape development decouple strontium and sulfur in the transition to dominance by atmospheric inputs

Carleton R. Bern, Stephen Porder, Alan R. Townsend

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Scopus citations


Weathering and leaching can progressively deplete the pools of soluble, rock-derived elements in soils and ecosystems over millennial time-scales, such that productivity increasingly relies on inputs from atmospheric deposition. This transition has been explored using strontium isotopes, which have been widely assumed to be a proxy for the provenance of other rock-derived elements. We compared rock versus atmospheric proportions of strontium to those for sulfur, a plant macronutrient, at several tropical forest sites in Hawaii and Costa Rica. Isotopic analyses reveal that sulfur is often decoupled from strontium in the transition to atmospheric dependence. Decoupling is likely the result of differences in chemical factors such as atmospheric input rates, mobility in the soil environment, and mineral weathering susceptibility. Strontium and sulfur decoupling appears to be accentuated by the physical process of erosion. Erosion rates are presumed to be high on the Osa Peninsula of Costa Rica, where the recent onset of rapid tectonic uplift has placed the landscape in a transient state. Decoupling is strong there, as erosion has rejuvenated the supply of rock-derived strontium but not sulfur. The landscape response to changes in tectonic uplift on the Osa Peninsula has produced decoupling at the landscape scale. Decoupling is more variable along a Hawaiian catena, presumably due to smaller scale variations in erosion rates and their influence on rejuvenation of rock-strontium inputs. These results illustrate how chemical and physical processes can interact to produce contrasting origins for different nutrient elements in soils and the ecosystems they support.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)274-284
Number of pages11
Issue number3-4
StatePublished - Dec 15 2007


  • Landform evolution
  • Nutrients
  • S-34/S-32
  • Soil erosion
  • Sr-87/Sr-86


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