We tested the hypothesis that P was the nutrient limiting net primary production of a native Metrosideros polymorpha forest on a highly weathered montane tropical soil in Hawaii. A factorial experiment used all combinations of three fertilizer treatments: nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P) and a mix of other essential nutrients (OE), consisting primarily of mineral derived cations and excluding N and P. P addition, but not N or OE, increased leaf area index within 12 months, foliar P concentration measured at 18 months, and stem diameter increment within 18 months. Stem growth at 18 months was even greater when trees fertilized with P also received the OE treatment. N and P additions increased leaf litterfall and N and P in combination further increased litterfall. The sequence of responses suggests that increased available P promoted an increase in photosynthetic area which led to increased wood production. P was the essential element most limiting to primary production on old volcanic soil in contrast to the N limitation found on young volcanic soils.
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