Deforestation and reforestation impacts on soils in the tropics

Edzo Veldkamp, Marcus Schmidt, Jennifer S. Powers, Marife D. Corre

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

126 Scopus citations


Soils under natural, tropical forests provide essential ecosystem services that have been shaped by long-term soil–vegetation feedbacks. However, deforestation of tropical forest, with a net rate of 5.5 million hectares annually in 2010–2015, profoundly impacts soil properties and functions. Reforestation is also prominent in the tropics, again altering the state and functioning of the underlying soils. In this Review, we discuss the substantial changes in dynamic soil properties following deforestation and during reforestation. Changes associated with deforestation continue for decades after forest clearing eventually extend to deep subsoils and strongly affect soil functions, including nutrient storage and recycling, carbon storage and greenhouse gas emissions, erosion resistance and water storage, drainage and filtration. Reforestation reverses many of the effects of deforestation, mainly in the topsoil, but such restoration can take decades and the resulting soil properties still deviate from those under natural forests. Improved management of soil organic matter in converted land uses can moderate or reduce the ecologically deleterious effects of deforestation on soils. We emphasize the importance of soil knowledge not only in cross-disciplinary research on deforestation and reforestation but also in developing effective incentives and policies to reduce deforestation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)590-605
Number of pages16
JournalNature Reviews Earth and Environment
Issue number11
StatePublished - Nov 2020

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We thank the following researchers for providing their original data from their publications: Marleen de Blécourt; Tommaso Chiti, Ute Hamer, Hennok Kassa, Maximilian Kirsten, Wolde Mekuria, Diego Navarrete, Jan Nyssen, Iván Prieto, Amin Soltangheisi, Clément Stahl and Oliver van Straaten. We thank Oliver van Straaten for making the maps. We thank Boniface Massawe for assistance with the soil profile images. E.V. and M.D.C. acknowledge financial support by the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG, German Research Foundation — Project ID 192626868 — SFB 990) as part of project A05.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2020, Springer Nature Limited.


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