Species-soil associations, disturbance, and nutrient cycling in an Australian tropical rainforest

Sean Michael Gleason, Jennifer Read, Adrian Ares, Daniel J. Metcalfe

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16 Citations (Scopus)


Resource availability and disturbance are important factors that shape the composition, structure, and functioning of ecosystems. We investigated the effects of soil fertility and disturbance on plant-soil interactions and nutrient cycling in a diverse tropical rainforest. Our goal was to determine how common soil specialisation is among species and how plant-soil interactions affect ecosystem functioning in the presence of disturbance. Most species (59%) showed significant fidelity to either fertile (basalt) or infertile (schist) soils. Obligate schist specialists (six species) contributed 39 and 37% to total stand-level basal area and aboveground net primary productivity, respectively. High nutrient use efficiency of schist specialists reduced the rates of within-stand nutrient cycling through the production of nutrient-poor plant tissues and litter. Although forests on schist soils had higher basal area and similar rates of productivity to forests on basalt, uptake of Mg, K, P, and N were markedly less on schist than on basalt, particularly after a cyclone disturbance. Stands on schist soils were also less affected by the cyclone and, as a result, contributed less (ca. 50%) Mg, K, P, and N inputs to the forest floor (via litterfall) than stands on basalt soils. System "openness" (i. e. the risk of nutrient loss) from cyclone-affected basalt forests was minimised by high rates of uptake following disturbance and large effective cation exchange capacities of soils. Soil-plant-disturbance interactions are likely to engender different fitness-enhancing strategies on fertile and infertile soils, possibly leading to the development and/or maintenance of diversity in rainforests.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1047-1058
Number of pages12
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2010


  • Cyclone
  • Hurricane
  • Nutrient use efficiency
  • Soil specialisation
  • Tradeoff


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