Soil properties and tree growth along an altitudinal transect in Ecuadorian tropical montane forest



In tropical montane forests, soil properties change with increasing altitude, and tree-growth decreases. In a tropical montane forest in Ecuador, we determined soil and tree properties along an altitudinal transect between 1960 and 2450 m asl. In different vegetation units, all horizons of three replicate profiles at each of eight sites were sampled and height, basal area, and diameter growth of trees were recorded. We determined pH and total concentrations of Al, C, Ca, K, Mg, Mn, N, Na, P, S, Zn, polyphenols, and lignin in all soil horizons and in the mineral soil additionally the effective cation-exchange capacity (CEC). The soils were Cambisols, Planosols, and Histosols. The concentrations of Mg, Mn, N, P, and S in the O horizons and of Al, C, and all nutrients except Ca in the A horizons correlated significantly negatively with altitude. The C : N, C : P, and C : S ratios increased, and the lignin concentrations decreased in O and A horizons with increasing altitude. Forest stature, tree basal area, and tree growth decreased with altitude. An ANOVA analysis indicated that macronutrients (e.g., N, P, Ca) and micronutrients (e.g., Mn) in the O layer and in the soil mineral A horizon were correlated with tree growth. Furthermore, lignin concentrations in the O layer and the C : N ratio in soil affected tree growth. These effects were consistent, even if the effect of altitude was accounted for in a hierarchical statistical model. This suggests a contribution of nutrient deficiencies to reduced tree growth possibly caused by reduced organic-matter turnover at higher altitudes.