Ecological studies in contrasting forest types in central Amazonia
Most of the Amazonia is covered by the lowland evergreen rain forest (LERF) formation. A small proportion of the region (5-6% in total) is covered by heath forest, which is particularly common in the Rio Negro basin on Spodosols - white sand soils with a layer of mor humus. The smaller facies of heath forest (SHF) is called 'Camping' in Brazil and often lacks the mor humus; the taller facies (TBF) is called 'Campinarana'. The present study was made in central Amazonia, on a gradient from SHF through THF to well developed LERF. Soil, vegetation, and nutrient dynamics were studied in three 50 m x 50m plots in each type of forest. Litterfall was measured during one year and litter standing crop was measured three times a year. Three decomposition experiments, using bagged leaf litter, were made using leaves of two common species from the heath forests and one from the LERF. Fertiliser addition experiments in the field and in the laboratory were carried out to determine the potential nutrient limitations for plants in the three forest types. Annual litterfall was highest in the dry season and was 3.8 t ha-1 yr-1 in the SHF, 6.3 t ha-1 yr-1 in the THF and 7.8 t ha-1 yr-1 in the LERF. The rates of weight loss of the enclosed leaf litter were most rapid in the LERF and slowest in the SHF. The leaves of the LERF species Clitoria racemosa decomposed faster than those of the heath forest species. Fine roots penetrating litter-bags differed significantly among forest types and leaf species, and increased the decay rates. There were no significant differences in decomposition rates between the wet and dry season experiments. Significant differences in the release of chemical elements were observed: higher immobilization of iron and aluminium in the LERF; higher potassium and copper release in THF; and lower calcium, but higher boron release rates in SHF. Significantly higher immobilization of iron and aluminium (mainly in LERF) was found in bags penetrated by fine roots, while release of magnesium, calcium, manganese and zinc was significantly increased by fine roots, particularly in the TI-IF. Leaf mass loss and nutrient release were mostly controlled by abiotic factors in the SHF, but organisms were more active in the THF and LERF. Diplopoda were the dominant decomposers, particularly in the THF. Fertiliser addition showed an overall positive effect of liming, especially in heath forest soils. Nitrogen and phosphorus additions did not induce higher biomass production, while calcium chloride addition invariably induced a high mortality. 11÷ ion toxicity, together with a higher concentration of soil phenolics are suggested as causes of the poor growth in the heath forests, but in the SHF, where it lacks mor humus, limitation by nutrients, especially basic cations, may occur.