Biological, geological and hydrological drivers collectively control forest biogeochemical cycling. However, based on a close examination of recent literature, we argue that the role of hydrological control particularly precipitation on nutrient budgets is significantly underestimated in subtropical and tropical forests, hindering our predictions of future forest nutrient status under a changing climate in these systems. To test this hypothesis, we analyzed two decades of monthly nutrient input and output data in precipitation and streamwater from a subtropical forested watershed in Taiwan, one of the few sites that has long-term nutrient input-output data in the tropics and subtropics. The results showed that monthly input and output of all ions and budgets (output – input) of most ions were positively correlated with precipitation quantity and there was a surprisingly greater net ion export during the wet growing season, indicating strong precipitation control on the nutrient budget. The strong precipitation control is also supported by the divergence of acidic precipitation and near neutral acidity of streamwater, with the former being independent from precipitation quantity but the latter being positively related to precipitation quantity. An additional synthesis of annual precipitation quantity and nutrient budgets of 32 forests across the globe showed a strong correlation between precipitation quantity and nutrient output-input budget, indicating that strong precipitation control is ubiquitous at the global scale and is particularly important in the humid tropical and subtropical forests. Our results imply that climate change could directly affect ecosystem nutrient cycling in the tropics through changes in precipitation pattern and amount.
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