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In PeerJ

Texture strongly influences the soil's fundamental functions in forest ecosystems. In response to the growing demand for information on soil properties for environmental modeling, more and more studies have been conducted over the past decade to assess the spatial variability of soil properties on a regional to global scale. These investigations rely on the acquisition and compilation of numerous soil field records and on the development of statistical methods and technology. Here, we used random forest machine learning algorithms to model and map particle size composition in ecoforest polygons for the entire area of managed forests in the province of Quebec, Canada. We compiled archived laboratory analyses of 29,570 mineral soil samples (17,901 sites) and a set of 33 covariates, including 22 variables related to climate, five related to soil characteristics, three to spatial position or spatial context, two to relief and topography, and one to vegetation. After five repeats of 5-fold cross-validation, results show that models that include two functionally independent values regarding particle size composition explain 60%, 34%, and 78% of the variance in sand, silt and clay fractions, respectively, with mean absolute errors ranging from 4.0% for the clay fraction to 9.5% for the sand fraction. The most important model variables are those observed in the field and those interpreted from aerial photography regarding soil characteristics, followed by those regarding elevation and climate. Our results compare favorably with those of previous soil texture mapping studies for the same territory, in which particle size composition was modeled mainly from rasterized climatic and topographic covariates. The map we provide should meet the needs of provincial forest managers, as it is compatible with the ecoforest map that constitutes the basis of information for forest management in Quebec, Canada.

Duchesne Louis, Ouimet Rock

2021

Forest inventory, Geostatistics, Machine learning, Photo interpretation, Random forest, Soil mapping, Soil particle size, Soil samples, Soil texture, Spatial data