Acid deposition effects on soil chemistry and forest growth on the Monongahela National Forest

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Virginia Tech

Acid deposition (AD) results largely from the combustion of fossil fuels, and has been found to negatively impact forest ecosystems. AD may acidify soils through base cation leaching or Al mobilization, may cause accumulation of nitrates and sulfates in soils, and in some cases has been related to forest decline. The Monongahela National Forest (MNF) lies downwind from many sources of AD pollution, and average deposition pH is around 4.4. Therefore, managers are concerned about the possible deleterious effects of AD on the forest ecosystem. During the 2006 Forest Plan revision, evaluation of site sensitivity to acidification was specifically stated as a step in the Forest's adaptive management process. To meet this management objective, forest practitioners must understand the effects AD has on the forest, prescribe appropriate practices, and be able to monitor for future changes.

To address the needs of MNF managers we used Forest Inventory and Analysis (FIA) sites to evaluate forest growth patterns on the Forest and determined the relationship between growth and key indicators of soil acidity. Furthermore, we used those relationships to create a map of site resistance to acidification across the MNF. To further develop a monitoring scheme we assessed two soil sampling protocols and two soil analysis methods for their suitability for monitoring AD-related changes in soil chemistry. Additionally, we evaluated the utility of dendrochronological and foliar sampling as AD-specific monitoring methods.

Across all FIA sites on the MNF periodic mean annual volume increment (PMAVI) ranged from -9.5 m³ha⁻¹yr¹ to 11.8 m³ha⁻¹yr¹, suggesting lower-than-expected growth on two-thirds of the sites. Growth was compared to soil indicators of acidity on 30 FIA sites. In the surface horizon, effective base saturation (+), Ca concentration (+), base saturation (+), K concentration (+), Fe concentration (-), Ca/Al molar ratio (+), and Mg/Al molar ratio (+), were correlated with PMAVI (p ≤ 0.1). In the subsurface horizon pH(w) (+), effective base saturation (+), Al concentration (-), and K concentration (-) were correlated with PMAVI. Site resistance to acidification was mapped based on site parent material, aspect, elevation, soil depth, and soil texture. There was a significant (p ≤ 0.1) positive correlation between PMAVI and a resistance index developed using five soil and site factors. Resistance was also compared with key soil indicators of AD-induced decline on 28 sites across the forest, and pH, effective base saturation, and Al content were found to be the best indicators related to resistance index. Resistance index was used to create a map of the MNF, of which 14% was highly resistant (RI ≥ 0.7), 57% was moderately resistant (0.7 > RI > 0.45) and 29% was slightly resistant (RI ≤ 0.45).

The first of our monitoring program evaluations compared soil sampling and analysis methods on 30 FIA plots. Analyses of variance showed that soil pH, effective base saturation, Ca/Al molar ratio, and sum of bases varied significantly with sampling protocol. We also compared lab analyses methods and found that if sampling by horizon, a linear relationship can be used to estimate Ca/AlSrCl₂ ratio using NH₄Cl extractions. The second monitoring approach evaluated the utility of a northern red oak (Quercus rubra L.) dendrochronology on two FIA plots. This analysis suggests that pollution on the MNF caused a decrease in growth rate during the 50-year period from 1940 to 1990. There were no differences among ring width increment and basal area increment between the two sites. From 1900 to 2007 the two sites showed 58.5% similarity in growth trends, but these could not be attributed to a dissimilar influence of AD. The third monitoring approach evaluated the relationship between foliar and soil chemical indicators. Across FIA plots, nutrient concentrations varied by tree species. The first year results from a potted-seedling study suggest that soil acidity influences growth, and foliar concentrations are related to growth rates.

This evaluation of the effects of AD on the MNF can be used to develop adaptive management plans and a monitoring program that will meet the AD-related objectives of the 2006 Forest Management plan.

soil acidification, Forest Inventory and Analysis, Monongahela National Forest, soil monitoring, acid deposition