In the state of Baden-Wuerttemberg, Southwest-Germany, a large-scale forest liming trial was government-funded in 1983 and a lime treatment was carried out in autumn 1983 until early winter 1984. Repeated liming was applied in 2003. The limed sites and adjacent control plots were surveyed repeatedly: in 2003 before the second lime application and again in 2010 and 2015. Research of this scope presents a rare opportunity to evaluate firstly the long-term development of acidified soils with their potential for natural recovery on established control plots, and secondly the long-term effects of repeated lime application—at a collective of study sites of various growth regions and soil properties. A natural recovery in soil pH was observed since 2003, on average limited to an increase of 0.2–0.4 pH units in the forest floor and 0.1–0.3 pH units in the mineral soil until 2015. The majority of the organic layers still show very strong or extreme acidity with a pH value 3.9 on average and in the mineral soil with pH values between 3.8 and 4.6 on average. The exchangeable cations calcium and magnesium slightly increased also, although the base saturation remained <20% by 2015. The exchangeable acid cation concentrations indicated no significant changes and thus no recovery. The lime treatment greatly accelerated the rise in pH by 1.2–1.3 units and base saturation by 40–70% in the organic layer, as well as 0.3–1.2 pH units and base saturation by 7–50% in mineral soil. These effects were decreasing (yet still significant) with depth in the measured soil profile as well as with time since last treatment. Changes in soil cation exchange capacity after liming were significant in 0–5 cm mineral soil, below that they were negligible as the significant increase in base cations were accompanied by decreasing acid cations aluminum and iron (III) especially in the upper soil profile. Additionally, a decrease of forest floor and an enrichment of organic carbon and nitrogen in the mineral topsoil tended to follow liming at some sites. Overall the liming effects had a high variability among the study sites, and were more pronounced in the more acidic and coarser textured sites. Liming of acidified forest soils significantly adds to natural recovery and therefore helps to establish greater buffering capacities and stabilize forest nutrition for the future.
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