Early stages of root and leaf decomposition in Hawaiian forests: Effects of nutrient availability

Rebecca Ostertag, Sarah E. Hobbie

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

132 Scopus citations


We examined the effects of soil nutrient availability and tissue chemistry on decomposition of both fine roots (<2 mm diameter) and leaves in three sites along a forest chronosequence in the Hawaiian Islands. These sites form a natural fertility gradient, with the youngest and oldest sites having lower nutrient availability than the intermediate-aged site. Nitrogen (N) limits aboveground net primary productivity (ANPP) in the youngest site, while phosphorus (P) limits ANPP in the oldest site. Both root and leaf litter decomposed most slowly in the 4.1-Myear-old site. We also investigated root decomposition in fertilized plots at the youngest and oldest sites; when roots were produced and decomposed in fertilized plots, root decomposition rates increased with N and P additions at the 4.1-Myear-old site. At the 300-year-old site, however, root decomposition rates did not respond to N or P additions. Roots decomposed faster than leaves at the more infertile sites, in part because of lower lignin-to-nitrogen ratios in roots than in leaf litter. Decomposing roots immobilized more nutrients than did decomposing leaves, and may serve an important role in retaining nutrients in these forests.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)564-573
Number of pages10
Issue number4
StatePublished - Dec 1 1999


  • Fertilization
  • Lignin-to-nitrogen ratios
  • Metrosideros polymorpha
  • Nutrient accumulation
  • Nutrient limitation

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