Tropical dry forest seedling growth and survivorship depends upon fertilization and irrigation

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Laura Toro-Gonzalez, Francisco Torres-Romero , Jennifer S. Powers

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Tropical dry forests are critically endangered, as 97% of their area is threatened by human disturbances. Thus, countries like Colombia have prioritize its restoration establishing an ambitious project to restore 12,000 hectares of dry forest. Previous initiatives using passive restoration methods in this area were unsuccessful due to lack of precipitation, and soil nutrient depletion. That is why this project employs active interventions including large-scale planting of seedlings and management using fertilizers and irrigation. To test the efficacy of these practices we established a large-scale experiment in south-western Colombia on abandoned pastures to determine 1) if fertilizer application and irrigation increase seedling survivorship and growth and 2) if phosphorus is the only nutrient limiting plant growth. We also evaluated the costs of these practices. We planted 11,382 seedlings of 11 native species coupled with six treatments: 50g complete fertilizer+water, 25g complete fertilizer+water, phosphorus+water, 50g complete fertilizer-water, water, and a control. Survival and growth were measured seasonally over 1.5 years. Survivorship after 1.5 years ranged from 45%–97% among species. Treatments that lacked supplemental water experienced higher initial mortality, however, after 1.5 years no differences among treatments were found. Plants that received any complete fertilizer treatment had the highest growth rates, suggesting that phosphorus is not the only limiting nutrient. Our data show that water is key for early seedling establishment and fertilization with multiple nutrients increases seedling growth more than watering after seedling established. Importantly, high rates of fertilizer application had no additional benefit to growth compared to low doses.

Resource Type:
Conference Presentation, SER2021

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