Pastures to woodlands: changes in soil microbial communities and carbon following reforestation

T.R. Cavagnaro, S.C. Cunningham, S. Fitzpatrick

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28 Citations (Scopus)


Reforestation of agricultural lands has the potential to sequester C, while providing other environmental benefits. It is well established that reforestation can have a profound impact on soil physicochemical properties but the associated changes to soil microbial communities are poorly understood. Therefore, the objective of this study was to quantify changes in soil physicochemical properties and microbial communities in soils collected from reforested pastures and compare then to remnant vegetation and un-reforested pastures. To address this aim, we collected soil from two locations (pasture and its adjacent reforested zone, or pasture and its adjacent remnant vegetation) on each of ten separate farms that covered the range of planting ages (0-30 years and remnant vegetation) in a temperate region of southeastern Australia. Soils were analysed for a range of physicochemical properties (including C and nutrients), and microbial biomass and community composition (PLFA profiles). Soil C:N ratios increased with age of tree planting, and soil C concentration was highest in the remnant woodlands. Reforestation had no clear impact on soil microbial biomass or fungal:bacterial ratios (based on PLFA's). Reforestation was associated with significant changes in the molecular composition of the soil microbial community at many farms but similar changes were found within a pasture. These results indicate that reforestation of pastures can result in changes in soil properties within a few decades, but that soil microbial community composition can vary as much spatially within pastures as it does after reforestation.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)24-32
Number of pages9
JournalApplied Soil Ecology
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2016
Externally publishedYes


  • Microbial community composition
  • Mixed-species plantings: phospholipid fatty acids (PLFA)
  • Reforestation
  • Soil carbon
  • Soil ecology


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