Application of dendrochronological analysis of Retama sphaerocarpa L. (Boiss) for dating agricultural abandonment

María José Marqués Pérez, Pilar Carral, A. Álvarez-González, Irene Verdú, Sara Cantador


Abandonment of agricultural land leads to changes in soil characteristics that may result in better or worse soil conditions. These changes are slow therefore the use of indicators for dating the time of abandonment is particularly useful. This study was carried out in Madrid, Spain with the aim to establish for the first time the use of Retama sphaerocarpa L. (Boiss) as a dendrochronological tool for dating land abandonment. This offers the possibility to take into consideration a period of time long enough for changes in soil to be determined. Such changes can be indicated by fluctuations in soil organic carbon content (SOC), porosity or water availability. Three different situations resulted from the dendrochronological analysis: soil currently tilled; soil recently abandoned (less than 5 years), and prolonged abandonment (in average 10 years). In addition the influence of Retama sphaerocarpa L. (Boiss) on soils was checked for these periods of abandonment. The rate of SOC gain can be considered fast. Tilled soils accounted for 0.48% SOC, and reached 1% in less than 5 years, although with wide standard deviations. Due to prolonged abandonment SOC reached 1.41%, (P = 0.09). Total soil porosity under tillage was 49%, and decreased to 38% after 4-5 years, but recovered to 41% under prolonged abandonment. Water availability (volumetric soil moisture between field capacity and permanent wilting point) remained the same, ranging from 7.7 to 8.5% along the whole period of time. The presence of R. sphaerocarpa L. (Boiss) accelerates soil changes as SOC in prolonged abandonment increased to 2.65%, porosity was 41% and water availability 10.3%.

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