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Short-term and long-term effects of human trampling on above-ground vegetation, soil density, soil organic matter and soil microbial processes in suburban beech forests

Kissling, Marion, Hegetschweiler, K. Tessa, Rusterholz, Hans-Peter, Baur, Bruno
Applied soil ecology 2009 v.42 no.3 pp. 303-314
Fagus, forest trees, temperate forests, hardwood forests, suburban areas, vegetation, understory, soil density, plant density, soil organic matter, soil microorganisms, microbial activity, humans, trampling damage, soil compaction, anthropogenic activities, recreation areas, outdoor recreation, long term experiments, temporal variation, height, species diversity, plant litter, soil water content, nitrogen content, soil enzymes, esterases, beta-glucosidase
Understanding the effects of disturbance by human trampling on ecosystem processes is essential for the management of recreational areas. Discussions on recreational impacts are based either on data from trampling experiments or on field survey data from sites subjected to long-term recreational use, but rarely on a combination of both. We examined whether results from a short-term trampling experiment reflect the impact of long-term trampling around frequently used fire places. We compared short- and long-term effects of human trampling on above-ground forest vegetation and soil physical, chemical and microbial characteristics. We found both similarities and differences in short- and long-term trampling effects. Both short- and long-term trampling reduced plant cover, plant height and species density, though long-term effects were more pronounced than short-term effects. In both approaches, leaf litter biomass decreased, whereas soil density increased with trampling intensity. Other soil characteristics including soil moisture, total soil organic matter content and total organic nitrogen content were not or only marginally affected by short- and long-term trampling. Furthermore, soil microbial biomass and the activity of dehydrogenase did not change in both approaches. In contrast, the activity of β-glucosidase was only reduced by short-term trampling, whereas activity of phosphomonoesterase was reduced only by long-term trampling. Soil compaction was one factor reducing microbial activities at low and medium trampling intensities in our experiment and in the highly compacted area around the fire rings. We conclude that it could be problematic to use the results of short-term trampling experiments to predict general long-term trampling effects. Our results imply also that the restoration of degraded sites might be hampered by the low nutrient turnover resulting from the reduced litter layer and changes in enzyme activities, mitigating a successful re-establishment and growth of plants.