Effects of charcoal hearth soil on forest regeneration: Evidence from a two-year experiment on tree seedlings

Effects of charcoal hearth soil on forest regeneration: Evidence from a two-year experiment on tree seedlings

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Publication date: 1 November 2018
Source:Forest Ecology and Management, Volume 427
Author(s): Elisa Carrari, Evy Ampoorter, Filippo Bussotti, Andrea Coppi, Ana Garcia Nogales, Martina Pollastrini, Kris Verheyen, Federico Selvi

Production of wood charcoal is a traditional form of forest use that lasted for millennia in most temperate regions, vanishing only some decades ago in the Mediterranean countries. Here, the abandoned charcoal hearths form a network of microhabitats with peculiar vegetation and soil conditions. Previous observational studies showed that establishment of woody species at these sites is severely hindered for unknown reasons. To test the effects of charcoal hearth soil on tree growth we used a common garden experiment with three major Euro-Mediterranean forest trees with different traits and ecology, one evergreen (Quercus ilex, holm oak) and two deciduous (Fagus sylvatica, beech, and Quercus cerris, Turkey oak). These were sown on control and charcoal-enriched soil collected in forest hearths abandoned since decades. Seed germination, seedling growth, photosynthetic efficiency and mortality were measured over a period of two years. Some responses were species-specific, while others were possibly associated to key traits such as evergreen vs. deciduous habit. Although charcoal soil effects were mainly positive on growth rate (height increase), they were mostly negative on germination of beech seeds, survival of holm oak seedlings, and photosynthetic efficiency. Although total biomass was not significantly affected, the root:shoot ratio was increased as a possible effect of physiological drought on hearth soil. These results support field-based evidence that the long persistence of charcoal remains in the soil may be not a favourable condition for forest regeneration. Management implications concern the use of biochar practices to promote forest restoration, which should be further tested on a wide range of species in different life-stages before applications in the field, also considering its long-term consequences.

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