Biotic and abiotic drivers of carbon, nitrogen and phosphorus stocks in a temperate rainforest

Jorge F. Perez-Quezada, Cecilia A. Pérez, Carla E. Brito, Juan P. Fuentes, Aurora Gaxiola, David Aguilera-Riquelme, Javier Lopatin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

17 Scopus citations


Forest ecosystems are recognized for their large capacity to store carbon (C) in their aboveground and belowground biomass and soil pools. While the distribution of C among ecosystem pools has been extensively studied, less is known about nitrogen (N) and phosphorus (P) pools and how these stocks relate to each other. There is also a need to understand how biotic and abiotic ecosystem properties drive the magnitude and distribution of C-N-P stocks. We studied a temperate rainforest in southern South America to answer the following questions: 1) how are C-N-P total stocks distributed among the different ecosystem pools?, 2) how do C:N, C:P and N:P ratios vary among ecosystem pools?, and 3) which are the main biotic and abiotic drivers of C-N-P stocks? We established 33 circular plots to estimate C, N, and P stocks in different pools (i.e. trees, epiphytes, understory, necromass, leaf litter, and soil) and a set of biotic (e.g., tree density and richness) and abiotic variables (e.g., air temperature, humidity and soil depth). We used structural equation modeling to identify the relative importance of environmental drivers on C-N-P stocks. We found that total ecosystem stocks (mean ± SE) were 1062 ± 58 Mg C ha−1, 28.8 ± 1.5 Mg N ha−1, and 347 ± 12.5 kg P ha−1. The soil was the largest ecosystem pool, containing 68%, 92%, and 73% of the total C, N, and P stocks, respectively. Compared to representative temperate forests, the soil of this forest contains the largest concentrations and stocks of C and N. The low P stock and wide soil C:P and N:P ratios suggest that P may be limiting forest productivity. The ecosystem C-N-P stocks were mainly driven by abiotic properties measured in the study area, however for N stocks, variables such as plant diversity and canopy openness were also relevant. Our results provide evidence about the importance not only of understanding the differences in C, N, and P stocks but also of the factors that drive such differences. This is key to inform conservation policies related to preserving old-growth forests in southern South America, which indeed are facing a rapid land-use change process.

Original languageEnglish
Article number119341
JournalForest Ecology and Management
StatePublished - 15 Aug 2021


  • Biomass
  • Deadwood
  • Evergreen broadleaf forest
  • Nutrients
  • Patagonia
  • Vines


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