EGU General Assembly 2020
© Author(s) 2020. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

The chronosequence in context: Elevation-dependent dynamics of soil biogeochemistry during cloud forest succession

Nathaniel Looker1, Andrew Margenot2, Karis McFarlane3, Ed Nater1, Alain Plante4, and Randy Kolka5
Nathaniel Looker et al.
  • 1Dept. of Soil, Water, and Climate, University of Minnesota, St. Paul, MN, USA (
  • 2Dept. of Crop Sciences, University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, Urbana, IL, USA
  • 3Center for Accelerator Mass Spectrometry, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, Livermore, CA, USA
  • 4Dept. of Earth and Environmental Sciences, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA, USA
  • 5Northern Research Station, USDA Forest Service, Grand Rapids, MN, USA

In mountainous landscapes, rates of soil morphological and biogeochemical change during secondary forest succession (SFS) can vary widely with elevation due to gradients in water, energy, and mineral weathering status. Improved understanding of how elevation mediates the response of soils to SFS is critical not only for reducing the uncertainty of soil maps in complex terrain, but also for predicting the edaphic effects of SFS under future climatic conditions. Focusing on volcanic ash soils in Veracruz, Mexico, we sought to 1) quantify how elevation mediates the dynamics of soil organic carbon (SOC) and geochemistry during SFS and 2) disentangle the soil-forming processes responsible for altitudinal trends. We characterized 16 soil profiles (0-100 cm depth) at various stages of SFS after pasture abandonment at the lower and upper altitudinal limits of the cloud forest ecosystem (1350-1550 and 2050-2220 m) using a broad suite of analytical techniques. Elevation strongly affected the depth distributions of all measured inorganic elements and enhanced the rate of accumulation of biocycled elements (e.g., P, K, Ca, S, Mn) during SFS. Notwithstanding altitudinal differences in C inputs (namely, forest floor recovery rates), profile-level SOC composition and dynamics were more sensitive to mineral weathering status than to SFS stage or elevation per se. Differentiation of soil mineralogy and SOC dynamics contributed to variation of physical properties, consistent with local ‘folk’ soil taxonomy. Ongoing work addresses the interplay of climate, geology, and redistribution processes in determining the mineralogical properties and, ultimately, SOC dynamics of volcanic ash soils. Our findings underscore the importance of considering the complex environmental contingency of soil recovery rates during SFS.

How to cite: Looker, N., Margenot, A., McFarlane, K., Nater, E., Plante, A., and Kolka, R.: The chronosequence in context: Elevation-dependent dynamics of soil biogeochemistry during cloud forest succession, EGU General Assembly 2020, Online, 4–8 May 2020, EGU2020-12354,, 2020


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