The effects of plantation practice on soil properties based on the comparison between natural and planted forests: A meta-analysis

Chengzhang Liao, Yiqi Luo, Changming Fang, Jiakuan Chen, Bo Li

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

120 Scopus citations


Aim: The effects of planted forests on soils are of great concern in the context of the increasing demands for timber production and atmospheric CO 2 sequestration. However, the effects of plantations on soil properties have not well been quantified. We determined the effects of plantation practice on soil properties based on a comparison between natural forests and plantations. Locations: All the continents except for Antarctica. Methods: The meta-analysis approach was used to examine the differences in 14 soil variables in the mineral layer, including pH, bulk density, C, N, P, K, Ca, Mg, Na and Al concentrations, C/N ratio, cation exchangeable capacity, base saturation, and moisture between plantations and their adjacent natural forests from 73 published studies. Results: Plantations did not differ from natural forests in soil pH or soil Na and Al concentrations. Soil bulk density below plantations increased by 12.5%, and soil C and N concentrations decreased by 36.0% and 26.5%, respectively, relative to natural forests. The other eight variables were 8.4-30.6% lower in plantations than in natural forests. The general patterns also held true for planted trees from the genus Pinus and for study regions in China. The patterns for soil bulk density and C and N concentrations were not different between the two groups in relation to various factors: stand age (<25 years versus ≥ 25 years), leaf form (broadleaved versus coniferous) and leaf seasonality (deciduous versus evergreen), tree species origin (native versus exotic), land-use history (afforestation versus reforestation) and site preparation for plantations (burnt versus un-burnt treatment), and biogeographic zone (tropical versus temperate). Main conclusions: Our results suggest that the level of soil fertility in plantations is unlikely to restore to the level in natural forests, implying that the replacement of natural forests by plantations may be a practice best avoided to maintain the ecosystem sustainability.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)318-327
Number of pages10
JournalGlobal Ecology and Biogeography
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 2012
Externally publishedYes


  • Biogeographic factor
  • Carbon sequestration
  • Natural forests
  • Plantation forests
  • Soil fertility
  • Soil properties
  • Stand types

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Global and Planetary Change
  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Ecology


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