Global distribution and climate sensitivity of the tropical montane forest nitrogen cycle

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Springer Nature


Tropical forests are pivotal to global climate and biogeochemical cycles, yet the geographic distribution of nutrient limitation to plants and microbes across the biome is unresolved. One long-standing generalization is that tropical montane forests are nitrogen (N)-limited whereas lowland forests tend to be N-rich. However, empirical tests of this hypothesis have yielded equivocal results. Here we evaluate the topographic signature of the ecosystem-level tropical N cycle by examining climatic and geophysical controls of surface soil N content and stable isotopes (δ15N) from elevational gradients distributed across tropical mountains globally. We document steep increases in soil N concentration and declining δ15N with increasing elevation, consistent with decreased microbial N processing and lower gaseous N losses. Temperature explained much of the change in N, with an apparent temperature sensitivity (Q10) of ~1.9. Although montane forests make up 11% of forested tropical land area, we estimate they account for >17% of the global tropical forest soil N pool. Our findings support the existence of widespread microbial N limitation across tropical montane forest ecosystems and high sensitivity to climate warming.



climate sensitivity, global climate, tropical montane forest, nitrogen cycle


Gay, J. D., Currey, B., & Brookshire, E. N. J. (2022). Global distribution and climate sensitivity of the tropical montane forest nitrogen cycle. Nature Communications, 13(1), 1-8.
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