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Soil heterogeneity in tree mixtures depends on spatial clustering of tree species

Sercu, Bram K., Hertzog, Lionel R., De Groote, Stefanie R.E., Baeten, Lander, Lens, Luc, Martel, An, Bonte, Dries, Verheyen, Kris
Basic and applied ecology 2019 v.39 pp. 38-47
carbon nitrogen ratio, cations, chemical bases, forest litter, forests, leaves, mixed stands, mixing, soil heterogeneity, species diversity, topsoil, trees
Heterogeneity in soil characteristics promotes and maintains coexistence between a diverse set of species. In forests, trees have species-specific impacts on soil abiotic characteristics and mixing of tree species is being promoted as a tool to ensure high levels of diversity and functioning. Yet, limited knowledge is available on the effect of tree species composition and spatial clustering on heterogeneity in soil characteristics. In this paper we derived heterogeneity of key characteristics of the leaf litterfall, the forest floor and the mineral topsoil (C, N and base cation concentration, C:N ratio and mass) in 53 plots of 7 different tree species compositions. We found that heterogeneity increased from the leaf litterfall, through the forest floor down to the mineral topsoil. Mixing tree species did not lead to an increased heterogeneity in the forest floor and topsoil compared to monocultures. However, we did find that mixed plots where conspecific trees stand in groups are more heterogeneous than plots where species are intimately mixed. Our results imply that heterogeneity in soil characteristics does not necessarily increase with tree diversity, but that within mixed stands the spatial organization of tree species should be considered in relation to the scale at which heterogeneity is desired.