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We assessed soil and vegetation nutrient capital in the landscape mosaic of till barrens and hardwood forests on the Pocono Plateau in northeastern Pennsylvania. These shrublands, which contain an unusual abundance of rare species, occur primarily on Illinoian-aged glacial till, though some patches grow on Wisconsinan till. We hypothesized that barrens soil and vegetation contain smaller quantities of nutrients than forest soil and vegetation, and under the same vegetation, Illinoian till soils have a smaller nutrient content than Wisconsinan till soils. We measured pH, total C and N, and exchangeable Ca, Mg, K, and Al content of the soils and determined C, N, Ca, Mg, K, and P content of the vegetation. Litter and soil organic matter in the barrens have a higher C/N ratio than the forest. The Illinoian barrens Oa horizon is thicker and contains a greater quantity of exchangeable mineral nutrients than the other Oa horizons. Differences in vegetation nutrient capital strongly mirror differences in biomass. Our results show no strong association of parent material with soil or vegetation nutrient capital. Instead, they suggest that plant community characteristics, not soil nutrient availability, shape the landscape pattern of barrens and forest, particularly plant-driven positive feedbacks primarily involving fire frequency.
Date Posted: 29 July 2005
This document has been peer reviewed.