Site fertility and leaf nutrients of sympatric evergreen and deciduous species of Quercus in central coastal California

Johannes M.H. Knops*, Walter D. Koenig

*Corresponding author for this work

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Leaf and soil nutrient levels interact with and may each influence the other. We hypothesize that to the extent soil fertility influences the nutritional state of trees, soil fertility should correlate with summer leaf nutrient levels, whereas to the extent that trees influence soil nutrient levels, the quality of leaf litterfall should correlate with soil fertility. We examined these correlations for five sympatric oak species (genus Quercus) in central coastal California. Soil fertility, including both nitrogen and especially phosphorus, correlated significantly with summer leaf nutrient levels. In contrast, phosphorus, but not nitrogen, in the leaf litterfall correlated positively with soil nutrients. These results suggest that soil nitrogen and phosphorus influence tree nutrient levels and that leaf phosphorus, but not leaf nitrogen, influence soil fertility under the trees. Feedback between the soil and the tree for phosphorus, but not nitrogen, is apparently significant and caused by species-specific differences in leaf quality and not by litterfall quality differences within a species. We also compared functional differences between the evergreen and deciduous oak species at our study site. There were no differences in soil nitrogen and only small differences for soil phosphorus between the phenological types. Differences in leaf nutrient concentration were much more pronounced, with the evergreen species having substantially lower levels of both nitrogen and phosphorus. Evergreen species conserved more phosphorus, but not more nitrogen, than the deciduous species, but there was no consistent relationship between retranslocation and either soil nitrogen or phosphorus. These results do not support the hypothesis that evergreenness is an adaptation to low soil fertility in this system.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)121-131
Number of pages11
JournalPlant Ecology
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 1997
Externally publishedYes


  • Deciduous
  • Evergreen
  • Leaf nutrient levels
  • Nitrogen
  • Phosphorus
  • Quercus
  • Soil fertility

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