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

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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.

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optically stimulated luminescence


percentage loss on ignition


principal components analysis


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This work was commissioned by the Countryside Council for Wales as part of its programme of research into sustaining natural beauty, wildlife and outdoor enjoyment in rural Wales and its inshore waters, and was co-funded by the UK Natural Environment Research Council.

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Correspondence to M. L. M. Jones.

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Jones, M.L.M., Sowerby, A., Williams, D.L. et al. Factors controlling soil development in sand dunes: evidence from a coastal dune soil chronosequence. Plant Soil 307, 219–234 (2008).

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