Recent studies raise the hypothesis that Na shortage restricts decomposition and affects the carbon cycle in tropical forests. When Na concentrations in soils are low and the stands are far off-coast, they do not receive substantial Na inputs from the atmosphere. Since terrestrial plants have low concentrations of Na, which is not considered as an essential element, the demand of soil fauna may not be covered. Yet, in contrast to animals, little is known on Na demands of phyllosphere microorganisms.
This thesis presents results from a study on Na limitation in a montane forest ecosystem in South Ecuador, which is located on the Eastern cordillera of the Andes, in a microcatchment under an undisturbed lower montane rainforest. The study area is characterized by low Na concentrations because of low deposition rates with incident precipitation and by low Na stocks in in the soils and in the organic layer. Sodium fluxes in rainfall, throughfall, stemflow, litter leachate, litterfall and organic layer have been monitored since 1998. Results reveal overall low Na concentrations in the ecosystem fluxes. Higher Na fluxes with incident rainfall than with throughfall suggest that Na is retained in the canopy. Therefore, this study aims at testing the hypothesis that Na is retained in the canopy because of Na limitation of microorganisms in phyllosphere.
To explore the role of the phyllosphere in Na retention, I sampled leaves covered by phyllosphere microorganisms and leaves without phyllosphere cover from 12 tree species belonging to 7 plant families frequently occurring in the study area. The fresh leaves were sprayed with a NaCl solution containing 1 mg L-1 Na, corresponding to the Na concentration in incident rainfall in the study area during La Niña events. Comparison with a control treatment excluded effects by abiotic Na fixation on the surface of the leaves.
The results show that increasing phyllosphere cover leads to a significantly enhanced Na retention, which is much higher on understory tree leaves than on leaves of the upper canopy. Leaching of K, Ca and Mg was higher with increasing degree of phyllosphere cover, which can be attributed to increasing element exchange between foliage and phyllosphere with leaf age. These results suggest that Na availability possibly plays a regulating role in the study ecosystem which might even grow in importance if Na deposition from the atmosphere continues to decrease or stabilizes at the current low level.