Classification and Fertility of Soils in the Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area Based on Landscape Position and Geology

Ryan H. Blair, The University of Tennessee


The Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area encompasses more than 50,585 hectares (125,000 acres) of the Cumberland Plateau along the border of Tennessee and Kentucky. Highly dissected and steep terrain have made accessibility to much of the park limited, thus little work has been done to investigate the formation of these soils. Seven native soil profiles were selected for chemical and physical analysis representing Pennsylvanian-aged acidic sandstone and shale geology and landforms. The objectives of this study included the characterization of selected native profiles by physical and chemical analysis, as well as classification using US Soil Taxonomy, to determine baseline soil fertility through chemical analysis, to provide fertilizer recommendations for Bicolor Lespedeza (Lespedeza bicolor) to be grown as wildlife food plots. The parent materials and site- specific geology, including the Pennington Formation, were compared to the profiles in order to establish any relationships that might exist. The methods of chemical analysis included: total carbon analysis, cation exchange capacity, percent base saturation, pH, particle size analysis, KCl total acidity, total elemental analysis and Mehlich I extraction. From the data, soils examined from an upland summit have the lowest Mehlich I extractable phosphorus (M1P) ranging from 0.8-3.14 mg kg-1, and this soil was classified as a Typic Hapludult. Soils examined on backslopes and sideslopes had M1P values ranging from 0.3-11.53 mg kg-1 and these soils were classified as either Lithic Dystrudepts or Typic Dystrudepts. The footslope soils examined have M1P values ranging from 1.95-19.79 mg kg-1 and were classified as Typic Hapludults. Floodplain soils had M1P values from 7.69-56.85 mg kg-1 and were classified as Fluventic Dystrudepts. Landscape position and parent material play major roles in the formation of soils, and their degree of weathering controls the amount of plant available nutrients. Using geologic and topographic maps for comparison, it was concluded that the development of these soils was directly related to the underlying geology and the surrounding topography throughout various landscapes. This information can be used as a guide to aid in predicting the chemical and physical properties of native soils on the Cumberland Plateau.