Tree seedling performance and soil development across a forest restoration chronosequence

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Michaela J. Woods, Sarah J. Frankenberg, Joseph R. Juodvalkis, Mary C. Lloyd, Ryan W. McEwan

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Transforming former agricultural fields into biodiverse habitats is an important objective for many agencies in eastern North America. Landscapes recovering from industrial agricultural practices differ from remnant sites in part due to their degraded soil and altered seed banks. Post-agricultural fields are often inhabited by invasive and weedy plants that may outcompete target restoration species. This pattern has resulted in planted tree seedlings having a low survival rate in young restorations. In this project, we sought to assess the role of soil degradation as a limiting factor in tree establishment following industrial agriculture. We collected soil from a chronosequence in temperate forests ranging from 0 to 100 years post-agricultural abandonment in Dayton, OH, USA. We planted Quercus macrocarpa seedlings in soils collected from each site in a greenhouse environment. We assessed soil nutrient content, chemistry and microorganism activity at each site to determine which factors promoted tree growth. We found that restorations older than 10 years increased the growth of Q. macrocarpa seedlings more than younger restorations. These soils had higher organic material and nitrogen availability, which likely led to larger trees seedlings. Microorganism activity associated with carbon and nitrogen cycling were also higher within these soils, suggesting more active microbiota aid in tree growth. Thus, after 10 years of restorative practices including tree plantation, soils have recovered enough to promote the growth of historically important biota. Overall, these findings indicate that soil characteristics are a key limiting factor in tree seedling establishment in forest restorations.

Resource Type:
Conference Presentation, SER2021

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