Changes in soil quality after converting Pinus to Eucalyptus plantations in southern China
Abstract. Vegetation plays a key role in maintaining soil quality, but long-term changes in soil quality due to plant species change and successive planting are rarely reported. Using the space-for-time substitution method, adjacent plantations of Pinus and first, second, third and fourth generations of Eucalyptus in Guangxi, China were used to study changes in soil quality caused by converting Pinus to Eucalyptus and successive Eucalyptus planting. Soil chemical and biological properties were measured and a soil quality index was calculated using principal component analysis. Soil organic carbon, total nitrogen, alkaline hydrolytic nitrogen, microbial biomass carbon, microbial biomass nitrogen, cellobiosidase, phenol oxidase, peroxidase and acid phosphatase activities were significantly lower in the first and second generations of Eucalyptus plantations compared with Pinus plantation, but they were significantly higher in the third and fourth generations than in the first and second generations and significantly lower than in Pinus plantation. Soil total and available potassium were significantly lower in Eucalyptus plantations (1.8–2.5 g kg−1 and 26–66 mg kg−1) compared to the Pinus plantation (14.3 g kg−1 and 92 mg kg−1), but total phosphorus was significantly higher in Eucalyptus plantations (0.9–1.1 g kg−1) compared to the Pinus plantation (0.4 g kg−1). As an integrated indicator, soil quality index was highest in the Pinus plantation (0.92) and lowest in the first and second generations of Eucalyptus plantations (0.24 and 0.13). Soil quality index in the third and fourth generations (0.36 and 0.38) was between that in Pinus plantation and in first and second generations of Eucalyptus plantations. Changing tree species, reclamation and fertilization may have contributed to the change observed in soil quality during conversion of Pinus to Eucalyptus and successive Eucalyptus planting. Litter retention, keeping understorey coverage, and reducing soil disturbance during logging and subsequent establishment of the next rotation should be considered to help improving soil quality.