Assessing soil calcium depletion following growth and harvesting of Sitka spruce plantation forestry in the acid sensitive Welsh uplands
- Institute of Terrestrial Ecology, Bangor Research Unit, UWB, Deiniol Road, Bangor, Gwynedd, LL57 2UP, UK
Abstract. A simple mass balance has been used to estimate soil calcium depletion during the growth of a 50 year old Sitka spruce crop on acid, base-poor peaty podzol soils in upland Wales. Growth of the crop will deplete the soil calcium reserve by an amount (205 kg Ca ha-1) approximately equivalent to the exchangeable calcium pool to the bottom of the profile and equal to 14% of the total soil calcium reserve to the bottom of the B horizon. Despite these predictions, measurements of exchangeable calcium show no differences beneath mature forest and acid grassland, implying that i) weathering rates in forest soils are greater than long-term estimates and predictions by the PROFILE soil chemistry model ii) the trees can access other sources of calcium or iii) there are significant errors in the mass balance. Following stem-only harvesting, growth of a 50 year old second rotation crop will lead to further depletion of soil calcium, but this amount (79 kg Ca ha-1), is less than for a second rotation crop following whole-tree harvesting (197 kg Ca ha-1). After the first crop, stem-only harvesting would allow a further 18 rotations before depletion of the total calcium reserve to the bottom of the B horizon. Whole-tree harvesting would allow for seven rotations after the first crop. These calculations assume that all sources of calcium are equally available to the crop. This can only be resolved by dynamic modelling of the calcium cycle at the ecosystem scale based on appropriate field measurements. The potential for significant soil acidification is therefore greater following whole-tree harvesting and, in line with current recommendations (Nisbet et al., 1997), this technique should probably be avoided on acidic, nutrient-poor soils unless remedial measures are included to enhance the soil base cation status.