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PLoS One. 2015 Jul 29;10(7):e0133325. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0133325. eCollection 2015.

Soil Nitrogen-Cycling Responses to Conversion of Lowland Forests to Oil Palm and Rubber Plantations in Sumatra, Indonesia.

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Soil Science of Tropical and Subtropical Ecosystems, Büsgen Institute, Georg-August-Universität Göttingen, Göttingen, Lower Saxony, Germany.
Fakultas Pertanian, Agroforestry Centre, Universitas Tadulako, Palu, Sulawesi, Indonesia.


Rapid deforestation in Sumatra, Indonesia is presently occurring due to the expansion of palm oil and rubber production, fueled by an increasing global demand. Our study aimed to assess changes in soil-N cycling rates with conversion of forest to oil palm (Elaeis guineensis) and rubber (Hevea brasiliensis) plantations. In Jambi Province, Sumatra, Indonesia, we selected two soil landscapes - loam and clay Acrisol soils - each with four land-use types: lowland forest and forest with regenerating rubber (hereafter, "jungle rubber") as reference land uses, and rubber and oil palm as converted land uses. Gross soil-N cycling rates were measured using the 15N pool dilution technique with in-situ incubation of soil cores. In the loam Acrisol soil, where fertility was low, microbial biomass, gross N mineralization and NH4+ immobilization were also low and no significant changes were detected with land-use conversion. The clay Acrisol soil which had higher initial fertility based on the reference land uses (i.e. higher pH, organic C, total N, effective cation exchange capacity (ECEC) and base saturation) (P≤0.05-0.09) had larger microbial biomass and NH4+ transformation rates (P≤0.05) compared to the loam Acrisol soil. Conversion of forest and jungle rubber to rubber and oil palm in the clay Acrisol soil decreased soil fertility which, in turn, reduced microbial biomass and consequently decreased NH4+ transformation rates (P≤0.05-0.09). This was further attested by the correlation of gross N mineralization and microbial biomass N with ECEC, organic C, total N (R=0.51-0. 76; P≤0.05) and C:N ratio (R=-0.71 - -0.75, P≤0.05). Our findings suggest that the larger the initial soil fertility and N availability, the larger the reductions upon land-use conversion. Because soil N availability was dependent on microbial biomass, management practices in converted oil palm and rubber plantations should focus on enriching microbial biomass.

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