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Upland Soils of the UK after Forty Years of Environmental Change

Reference
McGovern, S.T., Evans, C.D., Dennis, P., Walmsley, C.A., Turner, A. and McDonald, M.S. 2013. Resilience of upland soils to long term environmental changes. Geoderma 197-198: 36-42.
In the words of McGovern et al. (2013), "mountain ecosystems are considered particularly sensitive to environmental changes (Thuiller, 2007) and may provide effective systems in which to detect and assess the ecological impacts of climate change (Beniston, 2003)." They also say that some of the greatest changes in land-use, as well as the strongest expressions of climatic warming, have been experienced in Central and Northern European mountain ecosystems "due to the complex variability of snow, ice and temperature extremes," citing Hagedorn et al. (2010), who also has noted that the impacts of these changes in soils and their roles in the cycling of carbon and nutrients are largely unknown.

Working in the Snowdon area of North Wales, which has the highest elevation of the southern UK, as well as with a wealth of historic and current environmental data, McGovern et al. resurveyed a large set of sites first visited in 1968 as part of a survey by Ball et al. (1969), with the goal of (1) quantifying any changes in soil chemical composition that may have occurred there during the past 40 years, and (2) identifying the main drivers of those changes, based on analyses of the detailed environmental records of the sites.

"Unexpectedly," and "despite the length of time between sampling dates," the six scientists state that "no significant changes in pH, soil exchangeable base cations or C and N percentage content by weight were observed across a range of soil type and parent material." And they say that these findings suggest that "the soils have been relatively resistant to the large changes in the environmental pressures experienced in the past forty years, which include a 1.5°C increase in mean temperature; the peak of UK sulphur deposition in around 1970, followed by ~90% deposition reduction; long-term increases in nitrogen deposition; and major changes in grazing intensity."

McGovern et al. conclude, in the final sentence of their paper's abstract, that "these results suggest that upland soils may be considerably more resilient to future environmental changes than many previous assessments have suggested."

Additional References
Beniston, M. 2003. Climatic change in mountain regions: a review of possible impacts. Climatic Change 59: 5-31.

Hagedorn, F., Mulder, J. and Jandl, R. 2010. Mountain soils under a changing climate and land-use. Biogeochemistry 97: 1-5.

Thuiller, W. 2007. Biodiversity - climate change and the ecologist. Nature 448: 550-552.

Archived 9 October 2013