Context-Dependency of Agricultural Legacies in Temperate Forest Soils

Haben Blondeel, Michael P. Perring, Laurent Berges, Jorg Brunet, Guillaume Decocq, Leen Depauw, Martin Diekmann, Dries Landuyt, Jaan Liira, Sybryn L. Maes, Margot Vanhellemont, Monika Wulf, Kris Verheyen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

19 Citations (Scopus)
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Anthropogenic activities have affected forests for centuries, leading to persistent legacies. Observations of agricultural legacies on forest soil properties have been site specific and contrasting. Sites and regions vary along gradients in intrinsic soil characteristics, phosphorus (P) management and nitrogen (N) deposition which could affect the magnitude of soil property responses to past cultivation. A single investigation along these gradients could reconcile contradictions and elucidate context-dependency in agricultural legacies. We analysed soil from 24 paired post-agricultural (established after approx. 1950) and ancient (in existence before 1850) forests in eight European regions. Post-agricultural forest soil had higher pH, higher P-concentration and lower carbon (C) to N ratio compared to ancient forest. Importantly, gradients of soil characteristics, regional P surplus and N deposition affected the magnitude of these legacies. First, we found that three soil groups, characterising inherent soil fertility, determined extractable base cations, pH and concentrations of total N, organic C and total P. Second, regions with greater current P surplus from agriculture correlated with the highest P legacy in post-agricultural forests. Finally, we found that N deposition lowered pH across forests and increased total N and organic C concentrations in post-agricultural forest. These results suggest that (1) legacies from cultivation consistently determine soil properties in post-agricultural forest and (2) these legacies depend on regional and environmental context, including soil characteristics, regional P surplus and N deposition. Identifying gradients that influence the magnitude of agricultural legacies is key to informing how, where and why forest ecosystems respond to contemporary environmental change.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)781-795
Number of pages15
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 15 Jun 2019


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