Elevated nitrogen (N) deposition to tropical forests may accelerate ecosystem phosphorus (P) limitation. This study examined responses of fine root biomass, nutrient concentrations, and acid phosphatase activity (APA) of bulk soil to five years of N and P additions in one old-growth and two younger lowland tropical forests in southern China. The old-growth forest had higher N capital than the two younger forests from long-term N accumulation. From February 2007 to July 2012, four experimental treatments were established at the following levels: Control, N-addition (150 kg N ha–1 yr–1), P-addition (150 kg P ha–1 yr–1) and N+P-addition (150 kg N ha–1 yr–1 plus 150 kg P ha–1 yr–1). We hypothesized that fine root growth in the N-rich old-growth forest would be limited by P availability, and in the two younger forests would primarily respond to N additions due to large plant N demand. Results showed that five years of N addition significantly decreased live fine root biomass only in the old-growth forest (by 31%), but significantly elevated dead fine root biomass in all the three forests (by 64% to 101%), causing decreased live fine root proportion in the old-growth and the pine forests. P addition significantly increased live fine root biomass in all three forests (by 20% to 76%). The combined N and P treatment significantly increased live fine root biomass in the two younger forests but not in the old-growth forest. These results suggest that fine root growth in all three study forests appeared to be P-limited. This was further confirmed by current status of fine root N:P ratios, APA in bulk soil, and their responses to N and P treatments. Moreover, N addition significantly increased APA only in the old-growth forest, consistent with the conclusion that the old-growth forest was more P-limited than the younger forests.
Zhu F, Yoh M, Gilliam FS, Lu X, Mo J (2013) Nutrient Limitation in Three Lowland Tropical Forests in Southern China Receiving High Nitrogen Deposition: Insights from Fine Root Responses to Nutrient Additions. PLoS ONE 8(12): e82661.