Publications (FIS)

The role of plant resources in forest succession

changes in radiation, water and nutrient fluxes, and plant productivity over a 300-yr-long chronosequence in NW-Germany

authored by
Christoph Leuschner, Michael W. Rode

In the past insufficient attention has been paid to quantitative measurements of resource fluxes in ecosystems that undergo successional change. In this study, simultaneous changes in seven plant resources (photosynthetically active radiation (PAR), water, nitrogen, phosphorus, calcium, magnesium and potassium) are quantified by a chronosequence approach for a 300-yr-long secondary succession on poor soil from Calluna vulgaris heathland to Fagus sylvatica-Quercus petraea late-successional forest (heathland-to-forest succession). Above-ground net primary production increases sevenfold, and total above-ground phytomass about fortyfold during heathland-to-forest succession. Plant organs that capture resources increase much more slowly (leaf area index: threefold; fine root biomass: 1.3-fold). The increase in productivity is based both on higher absorptivity and conversion efficiency of PAR by the canopies of the successional plants. Accumulation of organic material on the forest floor significantly improves soil water availability. Evapotranspiration losses increase early in succession as the growing vegetation increases in both height and leaf area but tend to decrease again in the late-successional community. Drainage losses are at their minimum at the conifer-dominated pioneer forest stage. Accumulation of available nutrients in the soil is a key process in heathland-to-forest succession that significantly improves plant nutrient availability but leads to only minor changes in carbon/nutrient ratios and humus quality. Litter decomposition rates increase and result in a more rapid nutrient turnover in late successional stages. External nutrients inputs (from the atmosphere and soil weathering) significantly contribute to plant nutrient supply early in succession, whereas the internal cycling of nutrients through litter fall and nutrient mineralisation by far exceeds external inputs at the late stages. Vitousek and Reiners' (1975) ecosystem nutrient loss hypothesis is supported by the heathland-to-forest succession data. Odum's (1969) hypotheses on how nutrient cycles change during the course of succession is, in one part, rejected, in part supported. Tilman's (1988) hypothesis on nutrient limitation early, and light limitation late in primary succession is rejected.

Institute of Environmental Planning
External Organisation(s)
University of Kassel
Perspectives in Plant Ecology, Evolution and Systematics
No. of pages
Publication date
Publication status
Peer reviewed
ASJC Scopus subject areas
Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics, Plant Science
Sustainable Development Goals
SDG 6 - Clean Water and Sanitation
Electronic version(s) (Access: Closed)