Nutrient cycling in ectomycorrhizal legume-dominated forest in Korup National Park, Cameroon
Patterns and rates of nutrient input to the forest floor in litterfall, throughfall and stemflow were investigated in plots of low and high abundance of ectomycorrhizal species. The aim of the study was to examine the comparative advantage of the ectomycorrhizal species in nutrient acquisition and cycling on nutrient-poor soils in Korup. Litterfall was similar in both forests with annual estimates of 9.00 and 8.33 t ha-1 yr-1 for LEM and HEM forests respectively. Litterfall distribution followed a mono-modal pattern, with peaks in the dry season in both forests and the HEM forest showing stronger seasonality. The concentrations N, K and Ca in total litterfall were higher in the LEM forest while those of P and Mg were higher in the HEM forest. The bulk of nutrients in total litterfall was in leaf litter with the reproductive fractions having the highest concentrations of nutrients. Ectomycorrhizal species showed lesser internal redistribution of nutrients than non-ectomycorrhizal species which resulted in their higher leaf litter concentrations of nutrients. Breakdown of litter was relatively faster in the LEM forest with an annual decomposition constant (KL) of 3.21 compared to 2.43 for the HEM forest. The reproductive fractions had relatively higher annual decomposition constants of 8.20 and 4.27 in the LEM and HEM forests respectively compared to the other fractions. The overall element mobility in decomposing leaf litter was similar in both forests and in the following order: Mg>K>Ca>P>N. Mineralization of N, P and K in the decomposing leaf litter was similar in both forests and higher in the HEM forest for Mg and Ca. Throughfall was 96.6% and 92.4%, and stemflow 1.5% and 2.2%, of gross rainfall in LEM and HEM forests respectively. Considerable amounts of Ca, Mg and P were brought to the forest canopy in gross rainfall (24-45% of total input through this route) with higher amounts of K and Ca leached from plant parts by the rainwater. The amounts of P, K and Ca in stemflow and throughfall were of the same magnitude in both forests with the enhancement of N slightly higher in the LEM forest and Mg in the HEM forest.