Plant and Soil

, Volume 304, Issue 1–2, pp 179–188 | Cite as

Impacts of litter and understory removal on soil properties in a subtropical Acacia mangium plantation in China

  • Yanmei Xiong
  • Hanping Xia
  • Zhi’an Li
  • Xi’an Cai
  • Shenglei Fu
Regular Article


In forest ecosystems, the effects of litter or understory on soil properties are far from being fully understood. We conducted a study in a pure Acacia mangium Willd. plantation in southern China, by removing litter or understory or both components and then comparing these treatments with a control (undisturbed), to evaluate their respective effects on soil physical, chemical and biological properties. In addition, a litter decomposition experiment was conducted to understand the effects of understory on litter decomposition. Our data showed that the presence of understory favored litter decomposition to a large extent. In 1 year, 75.2 and 37.2% of litter were decomposed in the control and understory removal treatment (UR), respectively. Litter had a profound significance in retaining soil water and contributing to soil fertility, including organic matter (OM), available phosphorus (P) and alkali-hydrolyzable nitrogen (N), but understory exerted less influence than litter on soil physical and chemical properties. Both litter and understory played an important role in soil biological activity as indicated by microbial biomass carbon (MBC), while there were no significant impacts on soil exchangeable potassium (K) after either or both were removed. Contrary to our hypothesis, the effects of understory or litter removal were not always negative. A significant soil pH increase with litter removal was a positive factor for acid soil in the studied site. Except for soil moisture, significant effects, caused by removal of litter or/and understory, on measured soil chemical characteristics were only observed in the top 10 cm soil layer, but not in the 10–20 cm layer. Soil available P and exchangeable K contents were significantly higher in the rainy season than in the dry season, however, for the other soil properties, not substantially affected by season.


Litter decomposition Soil fertility Soil microbial biomass Soil pH Soil water content 



understory removal


litter removal


both understory and litter removal


organic matter


microbial biomass carbon



The project was funded by the Natural Science Foundation of China (30630015) and the Knowledge Innovation Program of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (KZCX2-YW-413). We thank Prof. Murray B. McBride and Dr. Samran Sombatpanit for correction and comments on the manuscript. Special thanks to two anonymous reviewers for valuable comments that significantly improved the manuscript. We are grateful to Messrs Yongbiao Lin, Bi Zou, and Xingquan Rao for their technical helps.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  • Yanmei Xiong
    • 1
    • 2
    • 3
  • Hanping Xia
    • 1
    • 2
    • 3
  • Zhi’an Li
    • 1
    • 2
    • 3
  • Xi’an Cai
    • 1
    • 2
    • 3
  • Shenglei Fu
    • 1
    • 2
    • 3
  1. 1.South China Botanical GardenChinese Academy of SciencesGuangzhouChina
  2. 2.Heshan National Field Research Station of Forest EcosystemHeshanChina
  3. 3.Heshan Hilly Land Interdisciplinary Experimental StationChinese Academy of SciencesHeshanChina

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