The increasing anthropogenic influence on the environment on a global scale has led to a shift in nutrient cycles which are not fully understood yet. These shifts could alter the properties of ecosystems and therefore change habitats and species composition. Therefore it is crucial to understand nutrient cycles and how ecosystems react to these nutrient availability shifts.
Especially the phosphorus and nitrogen cycles are highly important because of their direct influence on plant growth as primary macronutrients. Even in some so far undisturbed regions, a human caused rise in atmospheric input of phosphorus-containing particles is expected. One of the reasons therefor is land-use change in rural areas with associated combustions, from which the particles are transported downwind.
This study simulates the prognosticated increased nutrient input and focuses on the following fate of the phosphorus in soil. For this, in 2008 a nutrient manipulation experiment was established to fertilize an old-growth tropical montane forest with moderate phosphorus (10 kg P ha-1 yr-1) and/or nitrogen additions (50 kg N ha-1 yr-1). This experimental setup was conducted for the first time at three altitudes (1000m a.s.l., 2000m a.s.l., 3000m a.s.l.) to compare the effects along an altitudinal gradient.
After seven years the total phosphorus and bioavailable phosphorus concentrations of these locations were investigated in litterfall, the organic layer and in mineral soil to see if the added phosphorus is retained and enriched.
The results showed that the application of the phosphorus fertilizer resulted in increased total and bioavailable phosphorus concentrations mainly in the organic layer. The phosphorus increase in mineral soil was not significant and indicated that the added phosphorus is not leached, but retained in the ecosystems. There were no effects on phosphorus concentrations after nitrogen addition. The altitudinal gradient referred to a pronounced difference between 1000m and the other altitudes (2000m and 3000m), due to the accumulated organic matter at the higher altitudes. Overall this study shows that the sustainable anthropogenic phosphorus increase may cause a change in the ecosystem’s characteristics and nutrient cycles.