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Global distribution and climate sensitivity of the tropical montane forest nitrogen cycle


Gay, Justin; Brookshire, Jack; Currey, Bryce (2022), Global distribution and climate sensitivity of the tropical montane forest nitrogen cycle, Dryad, Dataset,


Tropical forests are pivotal to global climate and biogeochemical cycles, yet the geographic distribution of nutrient limitation to plants and microbes across the biome is unresolved. One long-standing generalization is that tropical montane forests are nitrogen (N)-limited whereas lowland forests tend to be N-rich. However, empirical tests of this hypothesis have yielded equivocal results. Here we evaluate the topographic signature of the ecosystem-level tropical N cycle by examining climatic and geophysical controls of surface soil N content and stable isotopes (δ15N) from elevational gradients distributed across tropical mountains globally. We document steep increases in soil N concentration and declining δ15N with increasing elevation, consistent with decreased microbial N processing and lower gaseous N losses. Temperature explained much of the change in N, with an apparent temperature sensitivity (Q10) of ~1.9. Although montane forests make up 11% of forested tropical land area, we estimate they account for > 17% of the global tropical forest soil N pool. Our findings support the existence of widespread microbial N limitation across tropical montane forest ecosystems and high sensitivity to climate warming.


See methods section of the manuscript for information on how the data was collected, processed, and analyzed.

Usage Notes

All data was organized in microsoft excel and processed in R with packages cited in the manuscript.


National Science Foundation, Award: OIA1632810

Montana Agricultural Experiment Station