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Is ‘grey literature’ a reliable source of data to characterize soils at the scale of a region? A case study in a maritime pine forest in southwestern France


L. Augusto. E-mail:


Soil scientists are receiving increasing numbers of requests for expert advice on soil over large areas, but at a high resolution. We tested the use of the soil data contained in sources of information that are not directly accessible (referred to as ‘grey’ data) to accomplish this task. We collected grey data about a pine forest, which is currently the subject of drastic, and questionable, changes in management, including a rapid rate of biomass removal. These grey data (from 266 sites) were compared with soil data obtained directly from our field sampling (83 sites). Our comparisons showed that the two sources of data were consistent when the variables concerned had been sampled and analysed by using methods shared by the soil scientists such as particle-size distribution. Conversely, significant discrepancies appeared for variables for which different methods existed, such as for CEC. For the latter, using corrective equations gave contrasting results, depending on the soil variable. The final database was used to characterize the soils of the study region. Results showed that soils of the study region (mainly sandy podzols and arenosols) were acidic and particularly oligotrophic. Several important properties (CEC, phosphorus cycling, pH, bulk density) were related to the organic fraction or carbon (C) content of soils. For instance, CEC values were linearly and exclusively dependent on C content. The most oligotrophic sites of the study region were clearly not suitable for the new intensive management of the forest in the long term. For the other sites, the question remains open because some specific data are still needed before drawing conclusions. We conclude that as a complement to conventional soil studies, the grey literature is a useful source of data and information to characterize soils at a regional scale.

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