, Volume 186, Issue 4, pp 2013-2024
Date: 14 Nov 2013

Land use impact on soil quality in eastern Himalayan region of India

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Quantitative assessment of soil quality is required to determine the sustainability of land uses in terms of environmental quality and plant productivity. Our objective was to identify the most appropriate soil quality indicators and to evaluate the impact of six most prevalent land use types (natural forestland, cultivated lowland, cultivated upland terrace, shifting cultivation, plantation land, and grassland) on soil quality in eastern Himalayan region of India. We collected 120 soil samples (20 cm depth) and analyzed them for 29 physical, chemical, and biological soil attributes. For selection of soil quality indicators, principal component analysis (PCA) was performed on the measured attributes, which provided four principal components (PC) with eigenvalues >1 and explaining at least 5 % of the variance in dataset. The four PCs together explained 92.6 % of the total variance. Based on rotated factor loadings of soil attributes, selected indicators were: soil organic carbon (SOC) from PC-1, exchangeable Al from PC-2, silt content from PC-3, and available P and Mn from PC-4. Indicators were transformed into scores (linear scoring method) and soil quality index (SQI) was determined, on a scale of 0–1, using the weighting factors obtained from PCA. SQI rating was the highest for the least-disturbed sites, i.e., natural forestland (0.93) and grassland (0.87), and the lowest for the most intensively cultivated site, i.e., cultivated upland terrace (0.44). Ratings for the other land uses were shifting cultivation (0.60) > cultivated low land (0.57) > plantation land (0.54). Overall contribution (in percent) of the indicators in determination of SQI was in the order: SOC (58 %) > exch. Al (17.1 %) > available P (8.9 %) > available Mn (8.2 %) > silt content (7.8 %). Results of this study suggest SOC and exch. Al as the two most powerful indicators of soil quality in study area. Thus, organic C and soil acidity management holds the key to improve soil quality under many exploitatively cultivated land use systems in eastern Himalayan region of India.