|Schaller, J; Turner, BL; Weissflog, A; Pino, D; Bielnicka, AW; Engelbrecht, BMJ: Silicon in tropical forests: large variation across soils and leaves suggests ecological significance., Biogeochemistry, 140(2), 161-174 (2018), doi:10.1007/s10533-018-0483-5|
Silicon (Si) has a variety of functions in plants, including alleviation of drought and light stress, defense against herbivores and pathogens, and improving plant nutrition. However, for tropical forests our knowledge about the role of silicon and its variation in soils and plants remains limited. To advance our insights into the potential role of Si in tropical forest ecology, we combined observational and experimental approaches to assess (i) variation in soluble and amorphous Si concentrations in tropical forest soils at the local and regional scale, and their relation to soil weathering stage, soil chemistry, and rainfall, (ii) variation of foliar Si concentrations across more than 30 co-occurring woody species, and (iii) intra-specific variation of foliar Si across sites and foliar habits (sun and shade). We found considerable (27-fold) variation in soluble Si (extracted in 0.01 M CaCl2) across soils, which reflected soil weathering stage and chemistry, but not rainfall. Foliar Si also varied markedly across species, both in naturally occurring trees and in a common garden experiment, with 39% of the most abundant species being classified as Si accumulators. Within species, foliar Si varied among sites and foliar habits, but relationships were inconsistent across species. The marked variability of Si concentrations in soils and leaves indicates that Si is likely to play an important yet underappreciated role for a variety of ecological processes in tropical forests.