Senna siamea trees recycle Ca from a Ca-rich subsoil and increase the topsoil pH in agroforestry systems in the West African derived savanna zone
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The functioning of trees as a safety-net for capturing nutrients leached beyond the reach of crop roots was evaluated by investigating changes in exchangeable cations (Ca, Mg, and K) and pH in a wide range of medium to long term alley cropping trials in the derived savanna of West Africa, compared to no-tree control plots. Topsoil Ca content, effective cation exchange capacity, and pH were substantially higher under Senna siamea than under Leucaena leucocephala, Gliricidia sepium, or the no-tree control plots in sites with a Bt horizon rich in exchangeable Ca. This was shown to be largely related to the recovery of Ca from the subsoil under Senna trees. The increase of the Ca content of the topsoil under Senna relative to the no-tree control treatment was related to the total amount of dry matter applied since trial establishment. The lack of increase in Ca accumulation under the other species was related to potential recovery of Ca from the topsoil itself and/or substantial Ca leaching. The accumulation of Ca in the topsoil under Senna had a marked effect on the topsoil pH, the latter increasing significantly compared with the Leucaena, Gliridia, and no-tree control treatments. In conclusion, the current work shows that the functioning of the often hypothesized safety-net of trees in a cropping system depends on (i) the tree species and on (ii) the presence of a subsoil of suitable quality, i.e., clay enriched and with high Ca saturation.
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