Agroforestry Systems

, Volume 35, Issue 1, pp 71–94 | Cite as

Single-tree influences on soil properties in agroforestry: lessons from natural forest and savanna ecosystems

  • C. C. Rhoades


Climate, organisms, topographic relief, and parent material interacting through time are the dominant factors that control processes of soil formation and determine soil properties. In both forest and savanna ecosystems, trees affect soil properties through several pathways. Trees alter inputs to the soil system by increasing capture of wetfall and dryfall and by adding to soil N via N2-fixation. They affect the morphology and chemical conditions of the soil as a result of the characteristics of above- and below-ground litter inputs. The chemical and physical nature of leaf, bark, branch, and roots alter decomposition and nutrient availability via controls on soil water and the soil fauna involved in litter breakdown. Extensive lateral root systems scavenge soil nutrients and redistribute them beneath tree canopies. In general, trees represent both conduits through which nutrients cycle and sites for the accumulation of nutrients within a landscape. From an ecological perspective, the soil patches found beneath tree canopies are important local and regional nutrient reserves that influence community structure and ecosystem function. Understanding species-specific differences in tree-soil interactions has important and immediate interest to farmers and agroforesters concerned with maintaining or increasing site productivity. Lessons from natural plant-soil systems provide a guide for predicting the direction and magnitude of tree influences on soil in agroforestry settings. The challenge for agroforesters is to determine under what conditions positive tree effects will accumulate simultaneously within active farming systems and which require rotation of cropping and forest fallows.

Key words

farmed parkland nutrient cycling plantation forestry soil heterogeneity 


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Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 1997

Authors and Affiliations

  • C. C. Rhoades
    • 1
  1. 1.Institute of EcologyUniversity of GeorgiaAthensUSA

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