Biotic and abiotic controls on diurnal fluctuations in labile soil phosphorus of a wet tropical forest

Ecology. 2009 Sep;90(9):2547-55. doi: 10.1890/08-1516.1.


The productivity of many tropical wet forests is generally limited by bioavailable phosphorus (P). Microbial activity is a key regulator of P availability in that it determines both the supply of P through organic matter decomposition and the depletion of bioavailable P through microbial uptake. Both microbial uptake and mineralization occur rapidly, and their net effect on P availability varies with soil moisture, temperature, and soil organic matter quantity and quality. Exploring the mechanisms driving P availability at fine temporal scales can provide insight into the coupling of carbon, water, and nutrient cycles, and ultimately, the response of tropical forests to climate change. Despite the recognized importance of P cycling to the dynamics of wet tropical forests and their potential sensitivity to short-term fluctuations in bioavailable P, the diurnal pattern of P remains poorly understood. This study quantifies diurnal fluctuations in labile soil P and evaluates the importance of biotic and abiotic factors in driving these patterns. To this end, measurements of labile P were made every other hour in a Costa Rican wet tropical forest oxisol. Spatial and temporal variation in Bray-extractable P were investigated in relation to ecosystem carbon flux, soil CO2 efflux, soil moisture, soil temperature, solar radiation, and sap-flow velocity. Spatially averaged bi-hourly (every two hours) labile P ranged from 0.88 to 2.48 microg/g across days. The amplitude in labile P throughout the day was 0.61-0.82 microg/g (41-54% of mean P concentrations) and was characterized by a bimodal pattern with a decrease at midday. Labile P increased with soil CO2 efflux and soil temperature and declined with increasing sap flow and solar radiation. Together, soil CO2 efflux, soil temperature, and sap flow explained 86% of variation in labile P.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Carbon Dioxide / metabolism
  • Circadian Rhythm
  • Costa Rica
  • Ecosystem
  • Phosphorus / chemistry*
  • Soil / analysis*
  • Temperature
  • Time Factors
  • Trees
  • Tropical Climate*
  • Water*


  • Soil
  • Water
  • Carbon Dioxide
  • Phosphorus