Are Sulfurous Soil Amendments (S0, Fe(II)SO4, Fe(III)SO4) an Effective Tool in the Restoration of Heathland and Acidic Grassland after Four Decades of Rock Phosphate Fertilization?

Authors

  • M. Tibbett,

    Corresponding author
    1. Centre for Land Rehabilitation, School of Earth and Geographical Sciences, Faculty of Natural and Agricultural Sciences, University of Western Australia, Crawley, WA 6009, Australia
      Address correspondence to M. Tibbett, email mark.tibbett@uwa.edu.au
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  • A. Diaz

    1. School of Conservation Sciences, Bournemouth University, Poole, Dorset, BH12 5BB, U.K.
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Address correspondence to M. Tibbett, email mark.tibbett@uwa.edu.au

Abstract

This paper deals with the complex issue of reversing long-term improvements of fertility in soils derived from heathlands and acidic grasslands using sulfur-based amendments. The experiment was conducted on a former heathland and acid grassland in the U.K. that was heavily fertilized and limed with rock phosphate, chalk, and marl. The experimental work had three aims. First, to determine whether sulfurous soil amendments are able to lower pH to a level suitable for heathland and acidic grassland re-creation (approximately 3 pH units). Second, to determine what effect the soil amendments have on the available pool of some basic cations and some potentially toxic acidic cations that may affect the plant community. Third, to determine whether the addition of Fe to the soil system would sequester PO4 ions that might be liberated from rock phosphate by the experimental treatments. The application of S0 and Fe(II)SO4 to the soil was able to reduce pH. However, only the highest S0 treatment (2,000 kg/ha S) lowered pH sufficiently for heathland restoration purposes but effectively so. Where pH was lowered, basic cations were lost from the exchangeable pool and replaced by acidic cations. Where Fe was added to the soil, there was no evidence of PO4 sequestration from soil test data (Olsen P), but sequestration was apparent because of lower foliar P in the grass sward. The ability of the forb Rumex acetosella to apparently detoxify Al3+, prevalent in acidified soils, appeared to give it a competitive advantage over other less tolerant species. We would anticipate further changes in plant community structure through time, driven by Al3+ toxicity, leading to the competitive exclusion of less tolerant species. This, we suggest, is a key abiotic driver in the restoration of biotic (acidic plant) communities.

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