Regular Article

Plant and Soil

, Volume 307, Issue 1, pp 219-234

First online:

Factors controlling soil development in sand dunes: evidence from a coastal dune soil chronosequence

  • M. L. M. JonesAffiliated withCentre for Ecology and Hydrology, Environment Centre Wales Email author 
  • , A. SowerbyAffiliated withCentre for Ecology and Hydrology, Environment Centre Wales
  • , D. L. WilliamsAffiliated withCountryside Council for Wales
  • , R. E. JonesAffiliated withCountryside Council for Wales

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Aerial photographs, maps and optically stimulated luminescence dates were combined with existing soil data to construct high resolution chronosequences of soil development over 140 years at a temperate Atlantic UK dune system. Since soil formation had progressed for varying duration under different climate and nitrogen deposition regimes, it was possible to infer their relative influence on soil development compared with location-specific variables such as soil pH, slope and distance to the sea. Results suggest that soil development followed a sigmoid curve. Soil development was faster in wet than in dry dune habitats. In dry dunes, rates were greater than in the literature: they increased with increasing temperature and nitrogen deposition and decreased with increasing summer gales. The combination explained 62% of the variation. Co-correlation meant that effects of nitrogen deposition could not be differentiated from temperature. In wet dune habitats rates increased with temperature and decreased with gales. The combination explained only 23% of the variation; surprisingly, rainfall was not significant. Effects of location-specific variables were not significant in either habitat type. Nitrogen accumulation was faster in wet than dry dune habitats, averaging 43 kg N ha−1 per year overall. Nitrogen accumulation greatly exceeded inputs from atmospheric deposition, suggesting rates of input for biological N fixation are 10–60 kg N ha−1 per year. Recent climate and/or nitrogen deposition regimes may have accelerated soil development compared with past rates. These data suggest the importance of changing climate on soil development rates and highlight the contribution of biological N fixation in early successional systems.


Climate change Dune slacks Nitrogen Carbon Primary succession Biological N fixation