Repeated sampling to detect changes in forest soils was rarely used before 1990, but the value of soil monitoring in understanding environmental change is becoming well established. The growing number of resampling studies has shown that sampling designs and procedures must be adapted to the objectives of the monitoring program and the soils being monitored. In the Adirondack region, current priorities include the response of soils to large increases, and more recently, large decreases in acidic deposition, and changes driven by trending climate such as altered pools of soil organic carbon, as well as other unforeseen factors that will occur in the future.
To improve methods and assess the feasibility of long-term soil monitoring in the Adirondack region, the United States Geological Survey (USGS) conducted a pilot project to evaluate a new sampling method for characterizing soils on a watershed basis. Results obtained with this new approach, referred to as the ADK sampling method, was compared to methods used in previous sampling conducted in 2004 as part of the Western Adirondack Stream Survey (WASS), and also to previous high-replication pit sampling in the North and South Tributary watersheds of Buck Creek (North Buck and South Buck). The number of sampling locations and spatial distribution of sampling points within watersheds differed among the methods, although pit excavation was used to obtain samples in all cases. In addition, this investigation evaluated the use of small diameter corers as a means to measure forest floor mass with greater accuracy and precision than commonly used methods such as pit excavation.
Sufficient statistical power to detect ecologically relevant changes in upper profile horizons (Oe, Oa and upper 10 cm of the B) were achieved with the ADK sampling method that utilized 18 pit excavations per watershed. The sampling locations were organized within each watershed into three study areas (six sampling locations per study area) that represented the primary types of landscape within the watershed. Sampling at 18 locations per watershed was found to be nearly as effective at detecting changes as sampling at 28 locations per watershed. Numerous significant changes (P < 0.10) were detected with both 18 and 28 sampling locations at sampling intervals of 12 to 16 years. The relationship between soil data obtained with the ADK method and stream chemistry at the base of the watershed suggested that this approach adequately characterized soil variability within the watershed for the purpose of studying soil-stream linkages. Significant changes in upper B horizon calcium (P < 0.10) and Oa horizon aluminum (P < 0.01) were detected when the data from the four WASS watersheds were combined with the two Buck Creek watersheds, which suggested that there would be value in resampling other WASS watersheds previously sampled in 2004 to support a regional assessment.
Study results support small diameter cores as a useful method to monitor changes in the organic matter mass of the forest floor. This method showed high reproducibility in repeated sampling tests and lower spatial variability in sample data than traditional approaches when compared on a watershed basis. Soil coring is also faster and requires less equipment than pit excavation methods, which makes it more conducive to sampling over large areas. However, organic matter mass of the forest floor determined by coring was consistently less than the values obtained by the ADK sampling method that used pit sampling and vertical horizon measurements, and also literature values of a previous Adirondack study that utilized pit sampling in which the entire horizon was collected over a measured area. However, a high correlation (R2 = 0.87) occurred between organic matter content (expressed as Mg ha-1) determined by coring and the ADK sampling method. Differing methods with regard to where sample could be collected, and how organic matter was collected for chemical analysis were the likely reasons for differences in quantification of forest floor organic mass.
Collection of forest floor cores in conjunction with the ADK method is recommended to provide improved sensitivity in detecting changes in the forest floor in proximity of where full analyses of the soil profile are being done. This duel sampling approach represents an optimized method for measuring and understanding how Adirondack soils will change in the future.