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Soil dynamics under an oak forest at Alice Holt

This paper presents short and long-term changes in soil carbon, nitrogen and acidity beneath a 70 year old oak plot in southern England and explains increases in carbon and nitrogen stocks and changes in pH.

© Elsevier

Benham, S.E., Vanguelova, E.I. and Pitman, R.M. (2012). Short and long term changes in carbon, nitrogen and acidity in the forest soils under oak at the Alice Holt Environmental Change Network site. Science of the Total Environment, vols 421-422, 82–93. doi:10.1016/j.scitotenv.2012.02.004



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The dynamics of soil properties within a 70 year old oak plot were assessed every five years (1994–2009), by depth and by horizon to identify short term changes in soil carbon and nitrogen stocks, and acidity. The findings were set within a study of long term changes in soil properties in a 180 year chronosequence of oak plots from the same forest. Carbon stock increased significantly in the top mineral horizon — overall increase was 5 t C ha− 1, at a mean accumulation rate of 0.34 t C ha− 1 y− 1, which was mainly due to increase in horizon thickness. No increase was seen when soils were sampled by depth. Differences obtained by depth or horizon sampling due to changes in horizon thickness over time highlight the importance of horizon in the correct evaluation of soil property change in small scale sampling programs. This is particularly important in forest soils with high litter accumulation and low turnover rates when compared to other land uses. Nitrogen stock increases below 10 cm soil depth were attributed to insect activity, litterfall variation and a change in water table. Findings were confirmed in the chronosequence study of oak across the forests; increases in soil C stocks of 0.1–0.2 t C ha− 1y− 1 were calculated across young (~ 25 years), mid-rotation (~ 60 years) and old (120+ years) stands. Soil nitrogen increased significantly with canopy age whilst pH increased significantly between young-mid rotation stands but decreased between mid rotation and old stands. Significant increases in pH were also recorded before 2004 in the ECN 70 year old oak plots reflecting overall pollution recovery.