Plant and Soil

, Volume 394, Issue 1–2, pp 421–429 | Cite as

Soil sampling in oil palm plantations: a practical design that accounts for lateral variability at the tree scale

  • Paul N. NelsonEmail author
  • Murom Banabas
  • Iain Goodrick
  • Michael J. Webb
  • Neil I. Huth
  • Damien O’Grady
Methods Paper



The aim was to devise a practical soil sampling design for oil palm plantations that takes into account tree-scale variability, thus facilitating detection of trends in soil properties over time.


We geometrically evaluated the ability of linear sampling transects to represent the distribution of typical management zones and radial patterns known to influence soil properties. The effect of sampling point density was tested using interpolated surfaces of soil biological, chemical and physical properties derived from values measured on a 35-point sampling grid covering the repeating tree unit in plantations with 15–25-year old palms.


The ability of sampling transects to represent the proportion of the plantation in various zones improved with increasing transect length and sampling density. Increasing the number of sampling points from 10 to 50 (using an acceptably long transect with length 5.57 × palm spacing) decreased the maximum deviation between the overall mean and the transect-derived mean from 15.9 to 5.6 % for the most variable parameter, respiration, and 3.2 to 0.6 % for the least variable parameter, bulk density.


Transect sampling provides an efficient means of obtaining a composite soil sample that accounts for tree-scale variability in oil palm plantations. The method is readily adaptable for other tree crops.


Elaeis guineensis (Jacq.) Sampling design Soil analysis Soil carbon Spatial variability Tree crop 



This work was funded by the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (Project SMCN-2009-013). We are grateful to staff of the Papua New Guinea Oil Palm Research Association for help with sampling and to Martha Karafir for help with soil analysis. We are also grateful for comments made by several reviewers, in particular Neil McKenzie.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

The authors declare that we have no potential conflicts of interest and that the research did not involve human participants or animals.


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  • Paul N. Nelson
    • 1
    Email author
  • Murom Banabas
    • 2
  • Iain Goodrick
    • 1
  • Michael J. Webb
    • 3
  • Neil I. Huth
    • 3
  • Damien O’Grady
    • 1
  1. 1.College of Science, Technology and EngineeringJames Cook UniversityCairnsAustralia
  2. 2.PNG Oil Palm Research AssociationKimbePapua New Guinea
  3. 3.Agriculture FlagshipCSIROTownsvilleAustralia

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