Unexpected dominance of parent-material strontium in a tropical forest on highly weathered soils

Carleton R. Bern, Alan R. Townsend, G. Lang Farmer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

66 Scopus citations


Controls over nutrient supply are key to understanding the structure and functioning of terrestrial ecosystems. Conceptual models once held that in situ mineral weathering was the primary long-term control over the availability of many plant nutrients, including the base cations calcium (Ca), magnesium (Mg), and potassium (K). Recent evidence has shown that atmospheric sources of these "rock-derived" nutrients can dominate actively cycling ecosystem pools, especially in systems on highly weathered soils. Such studies have relied heavily on the use of strontium isotopes as a proxy for base-cation cycling. Here we show that vegetation and soil-exchangeable pools of strontium in a tropical rainforest on highly weathered soils are still dominated by local rock sources. This pattern exists despite substantial atmospheric inputs of Sr, Ca, K, and Mg, and despite nearly 100% depletion of these elements from the top 1 m of soil. We present a model demonstrating that modest weathering inputs, resulting from tectonically driven erosion, could maintain parent-material dominance of actively cycling Sr. The majority of tropical forests are on highly weathered soils, but our results suggest that these forests may still show considerable variation in their primary sources of essential nutrients.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)626-632
Number of pages7
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 2005


  • Atmospheric nutrients
  • Calcium
  • Cations
  • Costa Rica
  • Isotopes
  • Nutrient sources
  • Parent material
  • Strontium
  • Tropical forest


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