Forest soil science

Forest soil science studies the structure and function of forest soils.

Forest soil characteristics are the key drivers of forest production and other ecosystem services. To know the spatial and temporal variation in forest soil characteristics and processes and factors affecting them is a prerequisite to understand and forecast the ecosystem effects of forest management and changes in the environment and climate.

Forest soil is the basis for renewable forest resources, but the soil itself is practically non-renewable – only organic matter from above- and belowground litter slowly accumulates in forest soil. The formation of the physical structure of forest soil with distinct soil horizons has taken thousands of years while disturbances may be rapid.

Forest soil profile

Photo: H-S. Helmisaari.

Forest soil biogeochemistry and ecosystem services

Biogeochemical (biological, geological and chemical) processes regulate carbon, nutrient and water fluxes. Nutrient cycling from soil to vegetation and back to soil in litter as well as weathering from minerals maintain soil nutrient availability. Slowly decomposing soil organic matter accumulates carbon and nutrients and forest soil – especially on peatlands – is a remarkable carbon storage. Forest soil also filtrates precipitation into groundwater and buffers precipitation acidity.

Forest soil has a central role in the provision of ecosystem services i.e. the conditions and processes through which human life is sustained and fulfilled. These services include e.g. providing raw materials and biomass as well as food (e.g. berries, mushroom, game), sequestrating carbon, recycling nutrients and acting as the storage and source of nutrients and water, stabilizing hydrological cycles, removing air pollutants, moderating weather extremes (e.g. floods), mitigating natural disasters, enabling recreation and maintaining biodiversity.

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