Afforestation significantly affects soil chemistry and biota, but its effects on the potentially growth-limiting nutrient phosphorus (P) had not to our knowledge been analyzed globally.
We conducted a comprehensive meta-analysis of 220 independent sampling sites from 108 articles to evaluate global patterns and controls of soil P change following afforestation.
Overall, total P concentration decreased by 11% and total P stock by 12% in the top 20 cm of mineral soil following afforestation, with no change in available P. Time since afforestation had no consistent effect on total P, while available P tended to increase with time. Prior land cover was the most influential factor for soil P change after afforestation, with available P increasing on native vegetation but decreasing on cropland. Afforestation increased available P by 22% without decreasing total P on formerly ‘degraded’ land, but depleted total P by 15% at nondegraded sites. Climate also influenced soil P response to afforestation, with larger P loss in the tropics.
Afforestation did not appear to directly induce P limitation, as available P only decreased on cropland. However, substantial declines in total P may drive tropical plantations toward greater P limitation as the capacity to replenish available P decreases.