Journal of Tropical Ecology

Research Article

Nutrient availability at different altitudes in a tropical montane forest in Ecuador

Nathalie Soethea1 c1, Johannes Lehmanna2 and Christof Engelsa1

a1 Department of Plant Nutrition and Fertilization, Humboldt University of Berlin, Albrecht Thaer Weg 4, 14195 Berlin, Germany

a2 Department of Crop and Soil Sciences, Cornell University, USA


We measured macronutrient concentrations in soils and leaves of trees, shrubs and herbs at 1900, 2400 and 3000 m in an Ecuadorian tropical montane forest. Foliar N, P, S and K concentrations in trees were highest at 1900 m (21.7, 2.2, 1.9 and 10.0 mg g−1). At 2400 and 3000 m, foliar concentrations of N, P, S and K were similar to nutrient concentrations in tropical trees with apparent nutrient deficiency, as presented in literature. Unlike foliar nutrient concentrations, the amounts of plant-available nutrients in mineral soil were not affected by altitude or increased significantly with increasing altitude. High C:N ratios (25:1 at 2400 m and 34:1 at 3000 m) and C:P ratios (605:1 at 2400 m and 620:1 at 3000 m) in the soil organic layer suggested slow mineralization of plant litter and thus, a low availability of N and P at high altitudes. Foliar N:P ratios were significantly higher at 2400 m (11.3:1) than at 3000 m (8.3:1), indicating that at high altitudes, N supply was more critical than P supply. In conclusion, the access of plants to several nutrients, most likely N, P, S and K, decreased markedly with increasing altitude in this tropical montane forest.

(Accepted March 21 2008)


c1 Corresponding author. Email: