Edaphic Factors are a More Important Control on Surface Fine Roots than Stand Age in Secondary Tropical Dry Forests

Jennifer S. Powers, Daniel Peréz-Aviles

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

49 Scopus citations


Although there are generalized conceptual models that predict how above and belowground biomass increase during secondary succession after abandonment from agriculture, there are few data to test these models for fine roots (defined as ≤2 mm diameter) in tropical forests. We measured live and dead fine roots (0-10 cm depth) in 18 plots of regenerating tropical dry forest in Costa Rica that varied in age from 5 to 60 yrs, as well as in soil properties. We predicted that both stand age and soil fertility would affect fine roots, with greater values in older forests on low fertility soils. Across two sampling dates and locations, live fine roots varied from 0.35 to 3.53 Mg/ha and dead roots varied from 0.15 to 0.93 Mg/ha. Surprisingly, there was little evidence that surface fine roots varied between sampling dates or in relation to stand age. By contrast, total, live, and dead fine roots averaged across sampling dates within plots were negatively correlated with a multivariate index of soil fertility (Pearson correlations coefficients were -0.64, -0.58, and -0.68, respectively; P < 0.01) and other individual edaphic variables including pH, silt, calcium, magnesium, nitrogen, and phosphorus. These results suggest that soil fertility is a more important determinant of fine roots than forest age in tropical dry forests in Costa Rica, and that one-way these plant communities respond to low soil fertility is by increasing fine roots. Thus, simple conceptual models of forest responses to abandonment from agriculture may not be appropriate for surface fine roots.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1-9
Number of pages9
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2013


  • Belowground biomass
  • Costa Rica
  • Secondary succession
  • Soil nutrients


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