The role of oak species in long-term soil P loss in a humid river bottomland

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There is a gap in our understanding of if and how bottomland forest type will affect long-term nutrient cycling and loss. This study aims to determine how different forests affect soil hydrologic variability and whole-soil P loss in a humid-subtropical setting. We used replicate-sampling and measured soil physical, chemical, and mineralogical properties at 12 sites in two forest ecosystems, post oak (Quercus stellata) and cherry bark oak (Quercus pagoda) in Clarks River National Wildlife Refuge in Western Kentucky. We hypothesize that wetting–drying events in redox soils of forested bottomlands can cause positive feedback in whole-soil P loss. Trees with greater P demand (e.g., post oak) take up more water creating more frequent and pronounced episodes in swelling and shrinking of expandable clays. Repeated swelling and shrinking of clays occlude the surface of Fe-Mn oxides from further adsorption of P in acidic soil. This can lead to greater loss or plant uptake of available P. Our results show (i) a significant difference in mean whole-soil P loss between the oak species with more loss in soils underlying the post oak forest, and (ii) a difference in the total P found in the sap- and heartwood of the two oak species. Soil analysis reveals that the clay mineralogy of the post and cherry bark oak sites are similar, and thus, may only play a minor role in governing the whole-soil P loss difference. However, the leaf data analysis suggests that the post oak site could be P and nitrogen-limited, while the cherry bark is only nitrogen limited. Our study shows that differences in the oak forest ecosystem may affect the long-term balance in water and nutrient uptake and may alter the redistribution of nutrients in the canopy and the underlying soils.


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