Forest restoration rehabilitates soil multifunctionality in riparian zones of sugarcane production landscapes

Wanderlei Bieluczyk*, Luis Fernando Merloti, Maurício Roberto Cherubin, Lucas William Mendes, José Albertino Bendassolli, Ricardo Ribeiro Rodrigues, Plínio Barbosa de Camargo, Wim H. van der Putten, Siu Mui Tsai

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journal/periodicalArticleScientificpeer-review

6 Citations (Scopus)
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Brazilian sugarcane plays a vital role in the production of both sugar and renewable energy. However, land use change and long-term conventional sugarcane cultivation have degraded entire watersheds, including a substantial loss of soil multifunctionality. In our study, riparian zones have been reforested to mitigate these impacts, protect aquatic ecosystems, and restore ecological corridors within the sugarcane production landscapes. We examined (i) how forest restoration enables rehabilitation of the soil's multifunctionality after long-term sugarcane cultivation and (ii) how long it takes to regain ecosystem functions comparable to those of a primary forest. We investigated a time series of riparian forests at 6, 15, and 30 years after starting restoration by planting trees (named ‘active restoration’) and determined soil C stocks, δ13C (indicative of C origin), as well as measures indicative of soil health. A primary forest and a long-term sugarcane field were used as references. Eleven soil physical, chemical, and biological indicators were used for a structured soil health assessment, calculating index scores based on soil functions. Forest-to-cane conversion reduced 30.6 Mg ha−1 of soil C stocks, causing soil compaction and loss of cation exchange capacity, thus degrading soil's physical, chemical, and biological functions. Forest restoration for 6–30 years recovered 16–20 Mg C ha−1 stored in soils. In all restored sites, soil functions such as supporting root growth, aerating the soil, nutrient storage capacity, and providing C energy for microbial activity were gradually recovered. Thirty years of active restoration was sufficient to reach the primary forest state in overall soil health index, multifunctional performance, and C sequestration. We conclude that active forest restoration in sugarcane-dominated landscapes is an effective way to restore soil multifunctionality approaching the level of the native forest in approximately three decades. Moreover, the C sequestration in the restored forest soils will help to mediate global warming.

Original languageEnglish
Article number164175
Pages (from-to)164175
JournalScience of the Total Environment
Publication statusPublished - 25 Aug 2023


  • Active forest restoration
  • Global warming
  • Isotope ecology
  • Mediation
  • Soil carbon stocks
  • Soil functions
  • Soil health assessment


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