Large short-range variation in soil properties in a natural grassland indicates non-tree related catena disruption

Temme, Arnaud J.A.M.; Kroef, Ilona Van der; Stoof, Cathelijne R.; Ketterer, Michael E.


Landscape position co-determines soil formation, and hence soil properties are related to landscape position. In many landscapes, the importance of landscape position is large, and thus relations between soil properties and landscape position are strong. This is particularly true for agricultural landscapes, where tillage has smoothed over local variation in soils. It is less true for some forested landscapes, where local impacts of trees on soil formation have increased local variation. This raises the question whether soil-landscape relations are strong in natural grassland, with neither trees nor plowing. We answer this question for hillslopes in a natural grassland in the American Great Plains by quantifying soil-landscape relations and soil spatial autocorrelation based on a dataset of 100 soil observations. We find that soil-landscape relations are weak, even when accounting for topographic features specific for the study site, and that short-range variation in soil properties is about as large as long-range variation. We conclude that non-tree related natural processes disrupt the formation of clear catenas, and hypothesize that these include small burrowing mammals and infilling of parent-material fractures with finer material.