Litter removal in a tropical rain forest reduces fine root biomass and production but litter addition has few effects.
Many old-growth lowland tropical rain forests are potentially nutrient limited, and it has long been thought that many such forests maintain growth by recycling nutrients from decomposing litter. We investigated this by continuously removing (for 10 yr) freshly fallen litter from five (45 m × 45 m) plots, adding it to five other plots, there were five controls. From monthly measures over 1 yr we show that litter removal caused lower: fine root (≤2 mm diameter) standing mass, fine root standing length, fine root length production and fine root length survivorship. Litter addition did not significantly change fine root mass or length or production. Nutrient concentrations in fine roots in litter removal plots were lower than those in controls for nitrogen (N), calcium (Ca) and magnesium (Mg), concentrations in fine roots in litter addition plots were higher for N and Ca. Chronic litter removal has resulted in reduced forest growth due to lack of nutrients, probably nitrogen. Conversely, long-term litter addition has had fewer effects.
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