Distribution Patterns of Soil Properties in a Rural Mediterranean Area in Northeastern Spain

Soil properties on the Cap de Creus Peninsula, NE Spain depend primarily on scarce agricultural practices and early abandonment. In the study area, 90% of which is mainly covered by Cistus shrubs, 8 environments representing variations in land use/land cover and soil properties at different depths were identified. In each environment variously vegetated areas were selected and sampled. The soils, collected at different depths, were classified as Lithic Xerorthents according to the United States Department of Agriculture system of soil classification (USDA-NRCS 1975). Differences in soil properties were largely found according to the evolution of the plant canopy and the land use history. To identify underlying patterns in soil properties related to environmental evolution, factor analysis was performed and factor scores were used to determine how the factor patterns varied between soil variables, soil depths and selected environments. The three-factor model always accounted for 80% of the total variation in the data at the different soil depths. Organic matter was the more relevant soil property at 0–2 cm depth, whereas active minerals (silt and clay) were found to be the most relevant soil parameters controlling soil dynamics at the other depths investigated. Results showed that vineyards and olive tree soils are poorly developed and present worse conditions for mineral and organic compounds. Analysis of factor scores allowed independent assessment of soils, depth and plant cover and demonstrated that soils present the best physico-chemical characteristics under Erica arborea and meadows. In contrast, soils under Cistus monspeliensis were less nutrient rich and less well structured ​
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