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Nutrient leaching and deep drainage under Eucalyptus plantations managed in short rotations after afforestation of an African savanna: Two 7-year time series

Mareschal L., Laclau J.P., Nzila J.D.D., Versini A., Koutika L.S., Mazoumbou J.C., Deleporte P., Bouillet J.P., Ranger J.. 2013. Forest Ecology and Management, 307 : p. 242-254.

DOI: 10.1016/j.foreco.2013.06.038

African savannas developed an efficient strategy of nutrient uptake and control of nitrification making it possible to avoid large losses of nutrient by drainage. The conversion of native savanna into commercial forest plantations is an important global change driver that potentially impacts element cycles. Afforestation of native Congolese savannas by Eucalyptus started 30 years ago. Large amounts of nutrients are removed through biomass harvesting every 6-7 years. Losses of nutrients by deep drainage might be a serious threat for the sustainability of these plantations, established on sandy soils with high hydraulic conductivities. We compared the soil N-mineralisation, the nutrient fluxes and deep drainage beneath savanna and Eucalyptus plantation in Congo. Then, we discussed the strategy of nutrient recycling. The water fluxes at a depth of 400 cm were approximately 20% higher in the savanna than in Eucalyptus plantation. Although the nitrification rate and solution chemistry exhibited strong modifications during the first year following both savanna afforestation and the harvesting of the Eucalyptus stand, the losses of nutrients by deep drainage remained unexpectedly low. The largest fluxes of drainage at a depth of 6 m were found for , which reached a maximum of 0.4 g m?2 yr?1 in the second year following savanna afforestation and 1 g m?2 yr?1 in the first year after clear cutting. The deep drainage of , Mg2+, Ca2+ and K+ did not exceed 0.2 g m?2 yr?1 in the savanna and at any stage of plantation development. These results are discussed regarding (i) the roots distribution in the soil of each ecosystem and (ii) the nutrient accumulation in biomass. The limited changes between the nutrient fluxes in both ecosystems were the result of fast root growth in the deep soil layers after planting, combined with an intense uptake of the tree roots to satisfy the large nutrient and water requirements for the development of tree crowns. Intense uptake and cycling of nutrients mitigated the risk due to clear cut and N fertilisation in this forest plantation. Nevertheless, forest managers must carefully fit fertilisation regimes to the nutrient requirements of new clone selected by breeding programmes and reduce as much as possible the delay between harvesting and re-planting to avoid high losses by deep drainage.

Mots-clés : eucalyptus; savane; reconstitution forestière; cycle de l'azote; plantation forestière; rotation de coupe; drainage; transport des substances nutritives; fertilité du sol; minéralisation de l'azote; congo

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