The strength of soil-plant interactions under forest is related to a Critical Soil Depth.


Institute of Geography, Soil Science and Geomorphology, University of Tübingen, Rümelinstrasse 19-23, Tübingen, Germany. [Email]


Soil properties and terrain attributes are of great interest to explain and model plant productivity and community assembly (hereafter P&CA). Many studies only sample surface soils, and may therefore miss important variation of deeper soil levels. We aimed to identify a critical soil depth in which the relationships between soil properties and P&CA were strongest due to an ideal interplay among soil properties and terrain attributes. On 27 plots in a subtropical Chinese forest varying in tree and herb layer species richness and tree productivity, 29 soil properties in six depth columns and four terrain attributes were analyzed. Soil properties varied with soil depth as did their interrelationships. Non-linearity of soil properties led to critical soil depths in which different P&CA characteristics were explained best (using coefficients of determination). The strongest relationship of soil properties and terrain attributes to most of P&CA characteristics (adj. R2 ~ 0.7) was encountered using a soil column of 0-16 cm. Thus, depending on the biological signal one is interested in, soil depth sampling has to be adapted. Considering P&CA in subtropical broad-leaved secondary forests, we recommend sampling one bulk sample of a column from 0 cm down to a critical soil depth of 16 cm.