Canadian Forest Service Publications

Evaluating foliar nutrient concentration as an indicator of soil nutrients in reclaimed and natural forests in Alberta, Canada. 2018. Hogberg, J.; Pinno, B.; Mackenzie, M.D. International Journal of Mining, Reclamation and Environment 1-13. 10.1080/17480930.2018.1516330.

Year: 2018

Issued by: Northern Forestry Centre

Catalog ID: 39773

Language: English

Availability: PDF (request by e-mail)

Available from the Journal's Web site.
DOI: 10.1080/17480930.2018.1516330

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Foliar nutrient concentrations are commonly recommended as indicator for soil nutrient status in managed and wildland ecosystems. Using data from an oil sands mine reclamation site in Alberta, Canada, we evaluated whether trembling aspen (Populus tremuloides Michx.) foliar concentrations of macronutrients accurately represent soil solution and soil nutrient pools in both reclaimed and wildfire-impacted natural reference boreal forest ecosystems. Reclamation soils were upland-based forest soil (forest floor-mineral mix; FFMM) and lowland-based peat soil (peat-mineral mix; PMM) with and without fertilisation. Individual macronutrient concentrations differed among treatments in the soil nutrient pool, but differences decreased in the soil solution pool and disappeared in the foliar pool. Few significant correlations between foliar and belowground pools were observed, but foliar phosphorus was correlated to soil phosphorus in natural reference sites. Multivariate analyses showed reclaimed sites were different from reference sites across all nutrient pools. Again, few significant multivariate correlations between foliar and belowground nutrient pools were observed, except for the unfertilised forest floor-mineral mix site, where foliar nutrients were positively correlated with soil solution. Based on our findings, we suggest that trembling aspen foliar nutrient concentrations are not a consistently reliable indicator of soil and soil solution nutrients in reclaimed or natural ecosystems.

Plain Language Summary

Re-establishing natural, self-sustaining ecosystem functions on reclaimed landscapes is one of the major objectives of oil sands mine reclamation in Alberta, Canada. Soil nutrient supply is one measure of how well a reclaimed ecosystem is functioning. It is generally easier to collect leaf tissue than soil samples, and nutrient concentrations in leaves are commonly recommended as an indicator for soil nutrient status. Using data from an oil sands mine reclamation site in Alberta, we evaluated whether nutrient concentrations in the leaves of aspen, a common tree species in the boreal forest, accurately represent soil nutrients in reclaimed and natural boreal forest sites. Leaf and soil nutrients were somewhat more closely related in the natural forest sites than in the reclaimed sites, but overall we found few significant correlations between nutrients in the leaves and those below ground. On the basis of our findings, we suggest that nutrient concentrations in the leaves of trembling aspen are not a reliable indicator of soil nutrient pools in reclaimed ecosystems.