Plant community responses to stand-level nutrient fertilization in a secondary tropical dry forest

Bonnie Waring, Daniel Pérez-Aviles, Jessica G. Murray, Jennifer S Powers

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

33 Scopus citations


The size of the terrestrial carbon (C) sink is mediated by the availability of nutrients that limit plant growth. However, nutrient controls on primary productivity are poorly understood in the geographically extensive yet understudied tropical dry forest biome. To examine how nutrients influence above- and belowground biomass production in a secondary, seasonally dry tropical forest, we conducted a replicated, fully factorial nitrogen (N) and phosphorus (P) fertilization experiment at the stand scale in Guanacaste, Costa Rica. The production of leaves, wood, and fine roots was monitored through time; root colonization by mycorrhizal fungi and the abundance of N-fixing root nodules were also quantified. In this seasonal forest, interannual variation in rainfall had the largest influence on stand-level productivity, with lower biomass growth under drought. By contrast, aboveground productivity was generally not increased by nutrient addition, although fertilization enhanced growth of individual tree stems in a wet year. However, root growth increased markedly and consistently under P addition, significantly altering patterns of stand-level biomass allocation to above- vs. belowground compartments. Although nutrients did not stimulate total biomass production at the community scale, N-fixing legumes exhibited a twofold increase in woody growth in response to added P, accompanied by a dramatic increase in the abundance of root nodules. These data suggest that the relationship between nutrient availability and primary production in tropical dry forest is contingent on both water availability and plant functional diversity.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere02691
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 2019

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We thank Milena Gutiérrez Leitón, Vanessa Brenes, Roger Blanco, and Maria Marta Chavarria for logistical support. Pedro Alvarado Juárez, Erick Calderon Morales, Geohanny Hernandez, and Damaris Pereira provided excellent support in the field. Last, we gratefully acknowledge the funding sources that made this project possible, U.S. National Science Foundation CAREER grant DEB 1053237 to JSP and the U.S. Department of Energy, Office of Science, Office of Biological and Environmental Research, Terrestrial Ecosystem Science (TES) Program (award DESC0014363) to JSP and BGW.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2019 by the Ecological Society of America


  • carbon
  • fertilization experiment
  • nitrogen
  • nutrient limitation
  • phosphorus
  • primary productivity
  • tropical dry forest


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