Journal of Environmental Quality
American Society of Agronomy
One set of hypotheses offered to explain the decline of red spruce (Picea rubens Sarg.) in eastern North America focuses on the effect of acidic deposition on soil chemistry changes that may affect nutrient availability and root function. Long-term soils data suggest that soil acidification has occurred in some spruce stands over the past 50 yr, with plant uptake and cation leaching both contributing to the loss of cations. Studies of tree ring chemistry also have indicated changes in Ca/Al and Mg/Al ratios in red spruce wood, suggesting increases in the ionic strength of soil solution. Irrigation studies using strong acid inputs have demonstrated accelerated displacement of base cations from upper horizons. Spruce-fir (Abies spp.) nutrient budgets indicate that current net Ca and Mg leaching loss rates are of the same order of magnitude as losses to whole tree harvest removals, spread out over a 50-yr rotation. For most cations, red spruce foliar nutrient levels decline with elevation, but it is difficult to assess the contribution of the elevational gradient in atmospheric deposition to this pattern. Compared to northeastern sites, spruce-fir soil solutions in the southern Appalachians have higher nitrate levels and higher Al concentrations, which at times approach the Al toxicity threshold for red spruce seedlings and frequently are at levels known to interfere with cation uptake. There is little evidence that either nutrient deficiencies or Al toxicity are primary causes of red spruce decline in the Northeast, though both may play a role in the Southeast. Major factors that could affect soil chemistry in spruce-fir stands in the future are (i) changes in S and N deposition, (ii) climate changes affecting soil organic matter decomposition and nutrient uptake, and (iii) tree mortality and physical disturbances to soils resulting in soil nitrate release.
Joslin, J.D., J.M. Kelly, and H. Van Miegroet. 1992. Soil chemistry and nutrition of North American red spruce-fir stands: Evidence for recent change. Journal of Environmental Quality 21: 12-29.