Date of Award


Degree Name

Master of Science



First Advisor

Williard, Karl


Since 1982, the state of Illinois has afforested over 100,000 acres of abandoned or marginal cropland. Afforestation, the planting of trees on land not in forest cover, is a sustainable forest management practice that has been shown to store carbon, increase plant diversity, improve soil and water quality, and assist in flood abatement. Our research seeks to develop practical soil and vegetative indicators that can be used by researchers and land managers alike to accurately assess changes to ecosystem function following land use shifts. To assess forest restoration success in terms of ecological function, seven ecological indicators were measured across a chronosequence of 50 afforested sites and 20 mature forested sites. Soil indicators: bulk density, aggregate stability, total nitrogen, total carbon, and labile carbon, and vegetation indicators: forest productivity and stocking density were assessed for each site. Additional sampling was completed on 25 nearby agriculture fields for each of the five soil indicators. Our data were analyzed using an analysis of variance test with multiple comparisons to examine differences among indicator values by land use category. Overall, soil indicator bulk density significantly decreased across afforested sites with stand age, whereas indicators aggregate stability, labile carbon, and total carbon significantly increased across afforested sites with stand age. Linear regression analyses were used to assess the change in indicator values with stand age. Additional linear regression analyses were used to assess the change in indicator values with site index, and significant results were recorded for 3 out of the 5 soil indicators. Indicator bulk density displayed a significant negative relationship with site index, and indicators aggregate stability and total carbon displayed a significant positive relationship with site index. Overall, our results indicated that four out of the five soil parameters measured were successful indicators of restored ecological function in afforested sites. Furthermore, we believe that the inclusion of vegetation indices forest productivity and stocking density provides vital information into forest succession and a better understanding of how productive sites benefit soil quality.




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