You are here: Home / Research Topics / Research Highlights / Individual Highlight

Research Highlights

Individual Highlight

Impacts of Timber and Biomass Harvesting on Soil Biological Quality

Photo of Pushing the limits of soil disturbance. This image shows the extensive lateral root development found on severely compacted research plots in mixed-conifer forest types of the Sierra Nevada. Soils were compacted to a root limiting density prior to planting. Carol Shestak, U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service.Pushing the limits of soil disturbance. This image shows the extensive lateral root development found on severely compacted research plots in mixed-conifer forest types of the Sierra Nevada. Soils were compacted to a root limiting density prior to planting. Carol Shestak, U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service.Snapshot : Soil is essential to the health and sustainability of global ecosystems and human populations. And while much attention often is spent on what’s happening to natural resources above ground, it’s equally important to understand how those activities are affecting attributes below the surface. With regard to timber harvesting and biomass removal, studies revealed substantial resilience in soil quality 20 years after harvesting and biomass removal despite the initial presence of severe soil damage.

Principal Investigators(s) :
Busse, Matt D. 
Research Location : United States and Canada
Research Station : Pacific Southwest Research Station (PSW)
Year : 2016
Highlight ID : 1028

Summary

The Long-Term Soil Productivity Study was conceived a quarter-century ago by a consortium of U.S. and Canadian scientists. Recognizing that properly functioning soil is a prerequisite for the health of forested ecosystems, the scientists installed a common experiment at more than 60 sites to test the resilience of soils and forests following moderate-to-severe disturbance. Treatments included several levels of soil compaction in combination with partial or complete removal of nutrient-rich surface organic residues. The premise in the current research was that changes in soil microbial community diversity and root proliferation are common following harvest disturbance, yet the extent of change is tempered using responsible and commonly employed practices. Bacterial and fungal diversity was measured using metagenomics techniques, and rooting profiles were examined in large exposed trenches. Coarse-scale microbial diversity differed among soils across the two countries, but was generally similar within each study location, regardless of disturbance treatments. Fine-scale diversity was affected primarily by the complete removal of surface organics (scalping) which modified soil temperature and moisture regimes. In contrast, root proliferation showed an unexpected tolerance to severe compaction after two decades of forest development. These findings confirm that upland forest soil functioning remains robust following a one-time harvest disturbance.

Forest Service Partners

External Partners

  • FS-NFS, Region 5
  • Southern Research Station (Dr. Andy Scott, Normal, Alabama)
  • British Columbia Ministry of Forests and Range
  • Canadian Forest Service
  • University of British Columbia

Strategic
Program Areas

Priority
Areas