New project looks at changes in woodland soil and biodiversity over time

earth wormsA new project is studying the long-term soil development and soil biodiversity of woodlands. While ecological surveys of woodlands are not unusual, they normally focus on above-ground ecology. This project will analyse and compare soil samples between woodland sites of different ages and aims to link what’s happening below ground to the ecology above.

Work began this September with the selection of 21 sample sites between three categories:

  • established woodland of between 50–100 years old;
  • ancient semi-natural woodland of over 400 years old.
  • arable land adjacent to these woodlands (to provide non-woodland ‘control’ sites)

Many of the sites used have already been surveyed above-ground by one of the project partners, WrEN (Woodland Creation and Ecological Networks), in collaboration with the Woodland Trust.

During September and October, our researchers carried out fieldwork, taking soil samples from all sites. Analysis of the soil samples is now underway. The researchers will be looking at soil nutrient and carbon stocks, as well as earthworm numbers and species.

Frank Ashwood, project lead, comments: “We’re looking at the soil biodiversity – analysing the biology and chemistry of the soil and trying to link together what we find underground with the ecology we find above-ground. What happens underfoot drives everything above it.”

“There’s lots to look at. For example, earthworms alone are very important for woodland soil functioning. In the UK there are around 30 species of earthworm, each doing slightly different things in the soil. It will be interesting to see how they vary both in numbers and species amongst the different sites, and how this relates to woodland age.”

The project will run for one year and full results are expected in autumn 2017. Follow Frank’s progress on Twitter @FrankAshwood