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Soil phosphorus as a control of productivity and openness in temperate interglacial forest ecosystems

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Aim  Observations of long chronosequences in forest ecosystems show that, after some millennia of build‐up, biomass declines in relation to the slow depletion of soil phosphorus. Plants that dominate during this period of soil impoverishment have specialized strategies for P acquisition, including ectomycorrhiza or root clusters. We use quantitative, pollen‐based reconstructions of regional vegetation in four Quaternary warm stages (Holocene, Eemian, Holsteinian, Harreskovian) to test whether inferred forest cover and productivity changes are consistent with long‐term modification of soil nutrient pools.

Location  Southern Scandinavia (Denmark, southern Sweden).

Methods  The REVEALS model was used to estimate regional vegetation abundances of 25 pollen‐type‐equivalent taxa from pollen records of large sedimentary basins in southernmost Scandinavia. Based on the estimated regional vegetation, we then calculated time‐series of Ellenberg indicator values for L (light), R (soil reaction) and N (a productivity proxy). We classified the vegetation records into distinct phases and compared these phases and the samples using hierarchical clustering and ordination.

Results  All three interglacials developed coniferous or mixed forests. However, pure deciduous forests were never reached during the Holsteinian, while pure coniferous forests never developed in the Holocene. Above‐ground productivity was inferred to be low initially, peaking in the first third of the warm stages and then slowly declining (except during the Holocene). Dominant trees of the post‐peak phases all had ectomycorrhiza as a strategy for P acquisition, indicating that easily accessible P pools had become depleted. Increases in fire regimes may have amplified the inferred final drop in productivity. Mid/late Holocene productivity changes were much influenced by agricultural activities.

Main conclusions  REVEALS vegetation estimates combined with Ellenberg indicator values suggest a consistent pattern in warm stages of initially rising productivity, followed by a long and slow decline. The P‐acquisition strategies of dominant trees indicate that the decline reflects increasing P depletion of soils.

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: 1: Department of Geoscience, Aarhus University, Høegh-Guldbergs Gade 2, DK-8000 Århus C, Denmark 2: School of Pure and Applied Sciences, Linnaeus University, 39182 Kalmar, Sweden

Publication date: 2011-11-01

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