Community Ecology


, Volume 138, Issue 4, pp 613-621

First online:

Spatio-temporal patterns of soil available nutrients following experimental disturbance in a pine forest

  • Dali GuoAffiliated withJones Ecological Research Center Email author 
  • , Pu MouAffiliated withDepartment of Biology, 235 Eberhart Building, University of North Carolina-Greensboro
  • , Robert H. JonesAffiliated withDepartment of Biology, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University
  • , Robert J. MitchellAffiliated withJones Ecological Research Center

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Although disturbance is known to alter soil nutrient heterogeneity, it remains unclear whether spatial patterns in soil nutrients after disturbance follow predictable temporal changes that reflect underlying processes. This study examined the effects of tree harvesting and girdling on overall variability, geostatistical patterns, and resource congruence of soil available nutrients in a mature Pinus elliottii Engelm. forest. The two disturbances led to different patterns of vegetation removal, forest floor redistribution, and revegetation, but showed similar post-disturbance changes in overall soil nutrient variability. Soil nutrient variability increased after both disturbances by more than 5-fold, and then decreased, returning to the undisturbed level in 4 years. Spatial structures assessed using geostatistics did not show predictable temporal trends. However, girdled plots showed more persistent spatial structures in soil nutrients than harvested plots, and had semivariogram ranges mostly equal to or less than 10 m, reflecting effects of persistent and spatially stable patches of undisturbed hardwoods that had an average patch size of 10 m. Resource congruence examined with Spearman rank correlations was nil before disturbance, increased after disturbance and then became nil again by the 4th year post-disturbance. The timing of the increase was related to treatment, occurring in the 1st year after disturbance in the girdled plots, but not until the 2nd year in the harvested plots. These two patterns of congruence were potentially caused by different rates of nutrient patch formation and resource uptake by plants during early succession. Although temporal changes in soil heterogeneity have been documented previously, the present study indicates that temporal trends in nutrient variability after disturbance may be predictable, and that the marked changes in spatio-temporal patterns of soil nutrients as a result of disturbance are ephemeral.


Geostatistics Nitrogen and phosphorus Resource congruence Spatio-temporal variation Trees