Pawlik Ł., Gruba P., Gałązka A., Marzec-Grządziel A., Kupka D., Szopa K., Buma B., Šamonil P. (2023): Weathering and soil production under trees growing on sandstones – The role of tree roots in soil formation. Science of the Total Environment, 166002 (200 pkt. MEiN; IF 9.8)






Rock weathering drives both landform formation and soil production/evolution. The less studied biological component of weathering and soil production caused by tree root systems is the main focus of the present study. Weathering by trees, which likely has been important in soil formation since the first trees emerged in the middle and late Devonian, is accomplished through both physical and biological means, like acids excreted by plants and exudates from associated bacterial communities. However, these processes are relatively poorly known. We assessed the impact of tree roots and associated microbiota on the potential level of biological weathering. Three research plots were selected in two sandstone regions in Poland. Two plots were in the Stołowe Mountains (Złotno, Batorów), a tableland built of Cretaceous sandstones. The third plot (Żegiestów) was in the Sącz Beskidy Mountains, the Carpathians. Soil samples were taken from tree root zones of Norway spruces from predefined sampling positions. Soils from non-tree control positions were also sampled. Soil samples were a subject of laboratory analyses which included the content of Fe and Al (amorphous and labile forms), carbon (C), nitrogen (N), and soil pH. The microbial functional diversity of soil microorganisms was determined using the Biolog (EcoPlate) system. Rock fragments were collected for mineralogical and a subject of optical microscopy and cathodoluminescence analyses in order to examine their mineralogical composition.

Significant differences (pHolm-corrected < 0.05) between sample locations were found mostly for the Żegiestów plot: Soils at control positions differed from the crack and bulk soil sample positions in terms of C, N, C/N, and pH.

Tree roots were able to develop a great variety of sizes and forms by following the existing net of bedrock discontinuities and hillslope microrelief. They developed along the most accessible surfaces, and caused rockcliff retreat and scree slope formation. These two features can be considered as initial stages of soil production. Trees add to the complexity of the soil system and allow formation of rhizospheric soils, and horizons rich in organic matter which are zones of a high microbial activity. However, as our study shows, rock cracks with roots cannot be considered as zones of microbial weathering. In addition, C content and microbial activity decreases with depth but can stay on a high level along living and dead roots. When entering rock fractures, they change the intensity of biomechanical weathering and soil properties. The highest biological activity of microorganisms was found in the control samples.

Overall, tree roots do change the pattern of soil formation and explain the existing pattern of soil chemical properties, microbial activity, and potentially biological weathering intensity, and the intensity of those processes in correlation with root presence varies in space.

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Zakład Mikrobiologii Rolniczej
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