Organic Carbon and Alkalinity Increase in Topsoil after Rangeland Restoration through Atriplex Nummularia Plantation
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This research studied the impact of fodder shrub plantations (Atriplex nummularia Lindl.) on topsoil properties, with particular reference to organic carbon, nitrogen, and soluble salts, in the Marrakech region (central Morocco). The studied plantation interventions were carried out to rehabilitate degraded rangeland and to mitigate desertification. The field experiment was conducted by drawing seventeen 50-m-long transects designed according to the ecological patch–interpatch approach defined by the Landscape Function Analysis. The top soil (0–5 cm) was sampled in 134 microsites, covering the main patch and interpatch types in plantation and control plots. The following variables were determined: pH, carbonates, organic carbon, total nitrogen, electrical conductivity, and soluble ions (Na+, K+, Ca2+, Mg2+ Cl_, NO3_, SO42_ and PO4 3_). Statistical analyses were carried out to analyse changes between sites and between patch types. Most of the studied properties were strongly affected by the spatial pattern defined by the plantation, particularly when the sites with higher biomass production were considered. Organic carbon increased by around 63% and 117% when the under canopy patches were compared, respectively, to the between-plants interpatches and to the control plots, a strong positive effect considering the aridity of the study area. On the other hand, a stronger increase was detected under canopy for most soluble salts and sodium adsorption rate. On average, the latter increased by 350% and up to 450% under the best developed plants, a stronger impact than observed in previous research, highlighting the very strong plant effect on the soil surface alkalinity.