Base cations in the soil bank: non-exchangeable pools may sustain centuries of net loss to forestry and leaching

Rosenstock, Nicholas P.; Stendahl, Johan; van der Heijden, Gregory; Lundin, Lars; McGivney, Eric; Bishop, Kevin; Löfgren, Stefan

Accurately quantifying soil base cation pool sizes is essential to interpreting the sustainability of forest harvests from element mass-balance studies. The soil-exchangeable pool is classically viewed as the bank of “available” base cations in the soil, withdrawn upon by plant uptake and leaching and refilled by litter decomposition, atmospheric deposition and mineral weathering. The operational definition of this soil bank as the exchangeable (salt-extractable) pools ignores the potential role of “other” soil nutrient pools, including microbial biomass, clay interlayer absorbed elements, and calcium oxalate. These pools can be large relative to “exchangeable” pools. Thus neglecting these other pools in studies examining the sustainability of biomass extractions, or need for nutrient return, limits our ability to gauge the threat or risk of unsustainable biomass removals. We examine a set of chemical extraction data from a mature Norway spruce forest in central Sweden and compare this dataset to ecosystem flux data gathered from the site in previous research. The 0.2 M HCl extraction released large pools of Ca, K, Mg, and Na, considerably larger than the exchangeable pools. Where net losses of base cations are predicted from biomass harvest, exchangeable pools may not be sufficient to support more than a single 65-year forest rotation, but acid-extractable pools are sufficient to support many rotations of net-ecosystem losses. We examine elemental ratios, soil clay and carbon contents, and pool depth trends to identify the likely origin of the HCl-extractable pool. No single candidate compound class emerges, as very strongly supported by the data, as being the major constituent of the HCl-extractable fraction. A combination of microbial biomass, fine grain, potentially shielded, easily weatherable minerals, and non-structural clay interlayer bound potassium may explain the size and distribution of the acid-extractable base cation pool. Sequential extraction techniques and isotope-exchange measurements should be further developed and, if possible, complemented with spectroscopic techniques to illuminate the identity of and flux rates through these important, and commonly overlooked, nutrient pools.

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Rosenstock, Nicholas P. / Stendahl, Johan / van der Heijden, Gregory / et al: Base cations in the soil bank: non-exchangeable pools may sustain centuries of net loss to forestry and leaching. 2019. Copernicus Publications.

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