Natural forest succession often affects soil physical and chemical properties. Selected physical and chemical soil properties were studied in an old-growth forest across a forest successional series in Dinghushan Nature Reserve, Southern China.
The aim was to assess the effects of forest succession change on soil properties. Soil samples (0–20 cm depth) were collected from three forest types at different succession stages, namely pine (Pinus massoniana) forest (PMF), mixed pine and broadleaf forest (PBMF) and monsoon evergreen broadleaf forest (MEBF), representing early, middle and advanced successional stages respectively. The soil samples were analyzed for soil water storage (SWS), soil organic matter (SOM), soil microbial biomass carbon (SMBC), pH, NH4+-N, available potassium (K), available phosphorus (P) and microelements (available copper (Cu), available zinc (Zn), available iron (Fe) and available boron (B)) between 1999 and 2009. The results showed that SWS, SOM, SMBC, Cu, Zn, Fe and B concentrations were higher in the advanced successional stage (MEBF stage). Conversely, P and pH were lower in the MEBF but higher in the PMF (early successional stage). pH, NH4+-N, P and K declined while SOM, Zn, Cu, Fe and B increased with increasing forest age. Soil pH was lower than 4.5 in the three forest types, indicating that the surface soil was acidic, a stable trend in Dinghushan.
These findings demonstrated significant impacts of natural succession in an old-growth forest on the surface soil nutrient properties and organic matter. Changes in soil properties along the forest succession gradient may be a useful index for evaluating the successional stages of the subtropical forests. We caution that our inferences are drawn from a pseudo-replicated chronosequence, as true replicates were difficult to find. Further studies are needed to draw rigorous conclusions regarding on nutrient dynamics in different successional stages of forest.