Effects of topsoil treatments on afforestation in a dry Mediterranean climate (southern Spain)
Abstract. Afforestation programs in semiarid areas are associated with a high level of sapling mortality. Therefore, the development of alternative low-cost and low-environmental-impact afforestation methods that ensure the survival of seedlings is crucial for improving the efficiency of Mediterranean forest management. This study assessed the effects of five types of soil amendments on the afforestation success (e.g., plant growth and survival) of a Mediterranean semiarid area. The amendments tested were (i) straw mulch; (ii) mulch containing chipped branches of Aleppo pine (Pinus halepensis L.); (iii) sheep manure compost; (iv) sewage sludge from a wastewater treatment plant; and (v) TerraCottem hydroabsorbent polymer. We hypothesized that in the context of dry Mediterranean climatic conditions, the use of organic amendments would enhance plant establishment and ensure successful afforestation. The results showed that afforestation success varied among the various soil amendment treatments in the experimental plots. The amendments had no effect on soil organic carbon, pH, or salinity, but the results indicated that the addition of mulch or hydroabsorbent polymer can reduce transplant stress by increasing the soil water available for plant growth throughout the hydrological year, and potentially improve the success of afforestation by reducing plant mortality.