Tree encroachment into savannas alters soil microbiological and chemical properties facilitating forest expansion
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Forests have been expanding over typical savanna sites for the past 3000 years in the Neotropics. Such invasion can produce a series of environmental modifications on typical savanna; however, it remains unclear how modifications in soil properties, caused by the encroachment of woody species, facilitate the expansion of forest ecosystems under dystrophic conditions. Here we examined chemical and microbiological changes associated with tree encroachment in oxisols of a Neotropical Savanna at Assis Ecological Station, Southeastern Brazil. We predicted that tree encroachment caused by typical forest species would cause significant changes in the chemical and microbiological properties of savanna soils. Soils were sampled at Assis Ecological Station, from savanna sites differing in tree encroachment (typical, dense and forested savanna) caused by decades of fire exclusion. We analysed vegetation leaf area index and leaf litter volume deposited in the studied plots and chemical (pH, organic matter, P, K, Ca, Mg, Al, NO3 −, NH4 +) and microbiological (microbial C biomass and dehydrogenase activity) properties of soils under distinct encroachment conditions. Most soil chemical properties did not change along the tree encroachment gradient; however, total P, soil organic matter, soil microbial C and dehydrogenase activity increased from typical savanna to forested savanna. The changes in soil organic matter and dehydrogenase activity were correlated with the values of leaf area index and litter volume along the encroachment gradient. Our results demonstrate that forest species can increase carbon and phosphorus supplies in tropical savanna soils.