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Arboriculture & Urban Forestry Online
Volume 38, Issue 6 — November 2012

Organic Amendment Effects on Soil Carbon and Microbial Biomass in the Root Zone of Three Landscape Tree Species    (View PDF)

P. Eric Wiseman, Susan D. Day, and J. Roger Harris

Abstract: There is increasing interest in amending degraded soils with organic matter to improve soil quality, especially in urban areas where rehabilitation of damaged soils may enhance tree growth and provision of ecosystem services. To assess the potential of such organic amendments for producing a sustained alteration in soil biological characteristics, researchers studied the effects of three organic amendments incorporated into the root zone of three tree species on root development, soil carbon dynamics, and soil microbial biomass over one year beginning 20 months after amendment application. Soil amendment with leaf-based, and to a lesser extent, biosolids-based composts increased root length within the amended root zone of red maple (Acer rubrum), but not of pin oak (Quercus palustris) or chestnut oak (Q. montana). There was a concomitant increase in microbial biomass carbon for red maple. Across all species, sphagnum peat moss amendment reduced microbial biomass carbon by 47% compared to unamended root zones and suppressed maximum seasonal soil respiration relative to composts. In contrast, leaf-based compost increased microbial biomass carbon by 12% (P = 0.0989) compared to unamended root zones. Carbon/nitrogen ratios remained stable throughout most of the year except in the root zones of chestnut oak and pin oak amended with peat, where it declined 44%85%. Total soil carbon was stable in all treatments, although unamended soils averaged about 40% lower than amended soils. Across all species and treatments, cumulative fine root length explained 19% of the variation in microbial biomass carbon. The study authors conclude that soil microbial activity can be increased by compost amendment of the root zone and that this increase is mediated to some degree by tree roots. In addition, stable C/N ratios suggest this alteration in the root zone may be sustainable. Further research may clarify whether compost amendment combined with tree planting can accelerate soil restoration.

Keywords: Acer rubrum; Quercus montana; Quercus palustris; Soil Food Web; Soil Rehabilitation; Soil Respiration; Tree Roots; Urban Soil.

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