Effects of Quercus rubra L. on soil properties and humus forms in 50-year-old and 80-year-old forest stands of Lombardy plain


Key message

Besides the well-known effects on the native plant community, red oak may also impact the soil; the effects of afforestation with red oak involve both organic layers and mineral soil, resulting in changes in organic carbon quantity and quality and in soil acidification.


Many alien species have become widespread in Europe; among these, red oak is a common invader of temperate forests.


The effects of substitution of natural mixed forest by red oak forest on humus forms and soil properties were investigated in two paired plots: a 50-year-old (Bosco Vacaressino) and 80-year-old (Bosco Ginestre) forest stand.


Soil sampling was performed from 3 layers at 40 and 49 points in Bosco Vacaressino and Bosco Ginestre respectively to determine humus forms, soil pH, organic carbon stock, carbon-nitrogen ratio (C:N), available phosphorus, and texture.


Red oak resulted in a shift from Mull to Moder humus forms; soil acidification, higher C:N ratio, and soil organic carbon stock were observed compared with mixed forests.


The major changes were reflected in a change toward less active humus forms; the effects of vegetation conversions were also visible in mineral layers; many of the modifications were more evident with increasing stand age.

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Data availability

The datasets generated and analyzed during the current study are available in the Pangaea repository (Ferré and Comolli 2019) at


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We received substantial help from F. Caronni (Ticino Park). We thank to F. Concas, L. Naldi, D. Codenotti, D. Abu El Khair, and L. Ballabio for their help with field and laboratory work. A special thanks to A. Castrignanò (Unit for Cropping Systems in Dry Environments, CREA-SCA, Bari) for her kind support in geostatistical analyses.

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Correspondence to Chiara Ferré.

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Annex 1

Fig. 5

Soil profiles of mixed forest (MF) and red oak forest (ROF) at study sites Bosco Vacaressino (BV) and Bosco delle Ginestre (BG). Taxonomy of soil profiles according to IUSS Working Group WRB (2015)

Fig. 6

Soil water balance according to Thornthwaite for Bosco Vacaressino

Annex 2

Table 2 Soil profile descriptions. Taxonomy of soil profiles according to IUSS Working Group WRB (2015)
Table 3 Soil profile analyses
Table 4 Descriptive statistics of data of organic horizons and mineral soil layers at study sites
Table 5 Mixed model results: estimates and standard error of the fixed effects. The response variables are the properties of organic horizons and mineral layers; the fixed effect is forest types: MF and ROF

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Ferré, C., Comolli, R. Effects of Quercus rubra L. on soil properties and humus forms in 50-year-old and 80-year-old forest stands of Lombardy plain. Annals of Forest Science 77, 3 (2020).

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  • Alien species
  • Red oak
  • Forest Conversion
  • Humus form
  • Soil spatial variability
  • Mixed model