Direct evidence for phosphorus limitation on Amazon forest productivity

Hellen Fernanda Viana Cunha, Kelly M. Anderson, Laynara Figueiredo Lugli, Flavia Delgado Santana, Izabela Aleixo, Anna Martins Moraes, Sabrina Garcia, Raffaello Di Ponzio, Erick Oblitas Mendoza, Barbara Brum, Jessica Schmeisk Rosa, Amanda L. Cordeiro, Bruno Takeshi Tanaka Portela, Gyovanni Ribeiro, Sara Deambrozi Coelho, Sheila Trierveiler de Souza, Lara Siebert Silva, Felipe Antonieto, Maria Pires, Ana Claudia SalomaoAna Caroline Miron, Rafael L. de Assis, Tomas F. Domingues, Luiz E. O. C. Aragao, Patrick Meir, Jose Luis Camargo, Antonio Manzi, Laszlo Nagy, Lina M. Mercado, Iain P. Hartley, Carlos Alberto Quesada

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The productivity of rainforests growing on highly weathered tropical soils is expected to be limited by phosphorus availability1. Yet, controlled fertilization experiments have been unable to demonstrate a dominant role for phosphorus in controlling tropical forest net primary productivity. Recent syntheses have demonstrated that responses to nitrogen addition are as large as to phosphorus2, and adaptations to low phosphorus availability appear to enable net primary productivity to be maintained across major soil phosphorus gradients3. Thus, the extent to which phosphorus availability limits tropical forest productivity is highly uncertain. The majority of the Amazonia, however, is characterized by soils that are more depleted in phosphorus than those in which most tropical fertilization experiments have taken place2. Thus, we established a phosphorus, nitrogen and base cation addition experiment in an old growth Amazon rainforest, with a low soil phosphorus content that is representative of approximately 60% of the Amazon basin. Here we show that net primary productivity increased exclusively with phosphorus addition. After 2 years, strong responses were observed in fine root (+29%) and canopy productivity (+19%), but not stem growth. The direct evidence of phosphorus limitation of net primary productivity suggests that phosphorus availability may restrict Amazon forest responses to CO2 fertilization4, with major implications for future carbon sequestration and forest resilience to climate change.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)558–562
Publication statusPublished - 10 Aug 2022


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