Former land-use and tree species affect nitrogen oxide emissions from a tropical dry forest
Species composition in successional dry forests in the tropics varies widely, but the effect of this variation on biogeochemical processes is not well known. We examined fluxes of N oxides (nitrous and nitric oxide), soil N cycling, and litter chemistry (C/N ratio) in four successional dry forests on similar soils in western Puerto Rico with differing species compositions and land-use histories. Forests patch-cut for charcoal 60 years ago had few legumes, high litter C/N ratios, low soil nitrate and low N oxide fluxes. In contrast, successional forests from pastures abandoned several decades ago had high legume densities, low litter C/N ratios, high mean soil nitrate concentrations and high N oxide fluxes. These post-pasture forests were dominated by the naturalized legume Leuceana leucocephala , which was likely responsible for the rapid N cycling in those forests. We conclude that agriculturally induced successional pathways leading to dominance by a legume serve as a mechanism for increasing N oxide emissions from tropical regions. As expected for dry regions, nitric oxide dominated total N oxide emissions. Nitric oxide emissions increased with increasing soil moisture up to about 30% water-filled pore space then stabilized, while nitrous oxide emissions, albeit low, continued to increase with increasing soil wetness. Inorganic N pools and net N mineralization were greatest during peak rainfalls and at the post-agricultural site with the highest fluxes. Soil nitrate and the nitrate/ammonium ratio correlated positively with average N oxide fluxes. N oxide fluxes were negatively and exponentially related to litter C/N ratio for these dry forests and the relationship was upheld with the addition of data from seven wet forests in northeastern Puerto Rico. This finding suggests that species determination of litter C/N ratio may partly determine N oxide fluxes across widely differing tropical environments.