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Soil nitrogen and carbon heterogeneity in woodlands and grasslands: contrasts between temperate and tropical regions


*Correspondence: Meelis Pärtel, Institute of Botany and Ecology, University of Tartu, Lai 40, Tartu 51005, Estonia.


Aim  Soil resource heterogeneity is linked to several ecological processes including invasion of woody species into grasslands. Studies from the temperate zone have demonstrated greater soil heterogeneity beneath woody vegetation than beneath grasslands. Woody species have a more widespread and coarser root system than herbaceous species, and may have a competitive advantage in relatively heterogeneous soils. We tested the global generality of greater soil heterogeneity beneath woody vegetation.

Location  Global.

Methods  We used data from published literature for soil nitrogen and carbon heterogeneity from paired woodland and grassland sites around the world.

Results  Woodland and grassland soil heterogeneities from paired observations were strongly correlated. There was, however, significant geographical variability in the relationship. Soils were more heterogeneous in woodlands than grasslands in temperate areas, but the opposite was true for tropical habitats. Grassland soils were more heterogeneous at lower than higher latitudes. Woodland soil heterogeneity did not vary with latitude.

Main conclusions  The previously described high soil heterogeneity in woody vegetation compared to grasslands holds only for temperate regions. Consequently, the relationship between soil resource heterogeneity and vegetation type is dependent on the study region. Macroecological studies should test the generality of relationships between soil and vegetation at the global scale.