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Individual Highlight

Soil Takes on a New Emphasis in Forest Ecosystems

Photo of Forest Service researchers Andy Scott and Rick Stagg sample soil bulk density in Texas. USDA Forest ServiceForest Service researchers Andy Scott and Rick Stagg sample soil bulk density in Texas. USDA Forest ServiceSnapshot : Forest soils produce tree biomass, high-quality water for consumption and aquatic habitat, sequester carbon, and provide recreation opportunities. Forest plantation management may affect soil productivity through a variety of treatments, including species selection and vegetation management, harvesting, site preparation, and fertilization. Harvest intensity is increasing in many areas of the southern U.S. due to the increase in biomass processing facilities, yet management guidelines to sustain multiple ecosystem services for these operations do not currently exist.

Principal Investigators(s) :
Scott, Andy 
Research Location : Louisiana; Mississippi; North Carolina; Texas
Research Station : Southern Research Station (SRS)
Year : 2015
Highlight ID : 930


Forest site productivity has been defined as the maximum volume or biomass of wood produced on a piece of land in a given period of time, and soil productivity is the ability of a soil to produce wood volume for a given species or set of species within a specific climate region. But forests and other ecosystems provide more than timber or plant biomass. Soil carbon sequestration and ecosystem biodiversity have emerged as critical services provided by managed forest soils that must also be sustained. Forest Service scientists assessed these ecosystem services in response to gradients of organic matter removal, soil compaction, and noncrop vegetation control on the thirteen 15-yr-old sites of the international Long-Term Soil Productivity Study located in North Carolina, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Texas. Whole-tree harvesting without removing the forest floor reduced tree volume at one site while removing the forest floor to achieve maximum nutrient removals reduced stand volume by 7 percent overall. Conversely, soil compaction increased pine volume production by 10 percent overall. Vegetation control increased pine stand volume production by 46 percent overall. Mineral soil carbon storage in the surface 0.3 meters (11.8 inches) was similar overall regardless of treatment. Soil compaction and organic matter removal did not alter overall woody species richness or Shannon's Index of diversity. Overall, these results suggest that biomass harvesting and intensive organic matter removal from southern pine stands has limited and site-specific effect on three soil ecosystem services: timber volume production, mineral soil carbon storage, and woody plant diversity.

Forest Service Partners

External Partners

  • North Carolina State University
  • Texas A&M University
  • University of Texas at San Antonio

Program Areas