Document Type


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Davis College of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Design


Division of Forestry and Natural Resources


Abstract: Background and objectives: aggregation and structure play key roles in the water-holding capacity and stability of soils and are important for the physical protection and storage of soil carbon (C). Forest soils are an important sink of ecosystem C, though the capacity to store C may be disrupted by the elevated atmospheric deposition of nitrogen (N) and sulfur (S) compounds by dispersion of soil aggregates via acidification or altered microbial activity. Furthermore, dominant tree species and the lability of litter they produce can influence aggregation processes. Materials and methods: we measured water-stable aggregate size distribution and aggregate-associated organic matter (OM) content in soils from two watersheds and beneath four hardwood species at the USDA Forest Service Fernow Experimental Forest in West Virginia, USA, where one watershed has received (NH4)2SO4 fertilizer since 1989 and one is a reference/control of similar stand age. Bulk soil OM, pH, and permanganate oxidizable carbon (POXC) were also measured. Research highlights: fertilized soil exhibited decreased macro-aggregate formation and a greater proportion of smaller micro-aggregates or unassociated clay minerals, particularly in the B-horizon. This shift in aggregation to soil more dominated by the smallest (μm) fraction is associated with both acidification (soil pH) and increased microbially processed C (POXC) in fertilized soil. Intra-aggregate OM was also depleted in the fertilized soil (52% less OM in the 53–2000 μm fractions), most strongly in subsurface B-horizon soil. We also document that tree species can influence soil aggregation, as soil beneath species with more labile litter contained more OM in the micro-aggregate size class (μm), especially in the fertilized watershed, while species with more recalcitrant litter promoted more OM in the macro- aggregate size classes (500–2000 μm) in the reference watershed. Conclusions: long-term fertilization, and likely historic atmospheric deposition, of forest soils has weakened macro-aggregation formation, with implications for soil stability, hydrology, and storage of belowground C.

Source Citation

Kemner, J.E.; Adams, M.B.; McDonald, L.M.; Peterjohn, W.T.; Kelly, C.N. Fertilization and Tree Species Influence on Stable Aggregates in Forest Soil. Forests 2021, 12,39.


This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

This article received support from the WVU Libraries' Open Access Author Fund.



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