, Volume 28, Issue 2, pp 159-172

The influence of trees on soil fertility on two contrasting semi-arid soil types at Matopos, Zimbabwe

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An investigation into the influence of indigenous trees on soil fertility was conducted in an area of semi-arid tropical savanna in Zimbabwe on two contrasting soil types: dystrophic savanna soils (sandy soils) and eutrophic savanna soils (fine-textured soils). The study adds further support to the growing literature showing that trees have a positive influence on soil fertility. The study suggests that tree clearance, as advocated in these agropastoral systems, may not necessarily result in long-term benefits. It is argued that the primary mechanism by which soil fertility is improved is through increased litter and soil organic matter compartments under trees. The influence of trees on cation levels is greater on sandy soils than fine-textured soils because the exchange capacity of fine-textured soils is determined largely by soil texture whereas organic matter is the prime determinant of exchange capacity in sandy soils. The present study demonstrates that fertility improvement under trees is not at the expense of fertility decline in the surface soils of the zone around the tree. Leaf quality, as reflected simply in leaf C:N ratio, influences decomposition rates but the activities of termites probably confound any simple relationship. Litter quality of tree species is probably important in determining levels of soil organic matter under canopies, with higher levels under species with lower leaf quality.