Short-Term Disappearance of Foliar Litter in Three Species Before and After a Hurricane'

Short-Term Disappearance of Foliar Litter in Three Species before and after a Hurricane
Neal H. Sullivan, William B. Bowden and William H. McDowell
Biotropica
Vol. 31, No. 3 (Sep., 1999), pp. 382-393

Abstract: 
Litter disappearance was examined before (1989) and after (1990) Hurricane Hugo in the Luquillo Experimental Forest, Puerto Rico using mesh litterbags containing abscised Cyrilla racemiflora or Dacryodes excelsa leaves or fresh Prestoea montana leaves. Biomass and nitrogen dynamics were compared among: (i) species; (ii) mid- and high elevation forest types; (iii) riparian and upland sites; and (iv) pre- and post-hurricane disturbed environments. Biomass disappearance was compared using multiple regression and negative exponential models in which the slopes were estimates of the decomposition rates subsequent to apparent leaching losses and the y-intercepts were indices of initial mass losses (leaching). Cyrilla racemiflora leaves with low nitrogen (0.39%) and high lignin (22.1%) content decayed at a low rate and immobilized available nitrogen. Dacryodes excelsa leaves had moderate nitrogen (0.67%) and lignin (16.6%) content, decayed at moderate rates, and maintained the initial nitrogen mass. Prestoea montana foliage had high nitrogen (1.76%) and moderate lignin (16.7%) content and rapidly lost both mass and nitrogen. There were no significant differences in litter disappearance and nitrogen dynamics among forest types and slope positions. Initial mass loss of C. racemiflora leaves was lower in 1990 but the subsequent decomposition rate did not change. Initial mass losses and the overall decomposition rates were lower in 1990 than in 1989 for Dacryodes excelsa. Dacryodes excelsa and C. racemiflora litter immobilized nitrogen in 1990 but released 10-15 percent of their initial nitrogen in 1989, whereas P. montana released nitrogen in both years (25-40%). Observed differences in litter disappearance rates between years may have been due to differences in the timing of precipitation. Foliar litter inputs during post-hurricane recovery of vegetation in Puerto Rico may serve to immobilize and conserve site nitrogen.