Laura E. Boeschoten, Ute Sass-Klaassen, Mart Vlam, Rob N.J. Comans, Gerwin F. Koopmans, Barbara Rocha Venâncio Meyer-Sand, Steve N. Tassiamba, Martin T. Tchamba, Herman T. Zanguim, Pascaline T. Zemtsa and Pieter A. Zuidema – STOTEN (2022)
Forensic methods to independently trace timber origin are essential to combat illegal timber trade. Tracing product origin by analysing their multi-element composition has been successfully applied in several commodities, but its potential for timber is not yet known. To evaluate this potential the drivers of wood multi-elemental composition need to be studied. Here we report on the first study relating wood multi-elemental composition of forest trees to soil chemical and physical properties.
We studied the reactive soil element pools and the multi-elemental composition in sapwood and heartwood for 37 Azobé (Lophira alata) trees at two forest sites in Cameroon. A total of 46 elements were measured using ICP-MS. We also measured three potential drivers of soil and wood elemental composition: clay content, soil organic matter and pH. We tested associations between soil and wood using multiple regressions and multivariate analyses (Mantel test, db-RDA). Finally, we performed a Random Forest analysis of heartwood elemental composition to check site assignment accuracy.
We found elemental compositions of soil, sapwood and heartwood to be significantly associated. Soil clay content and organic matter positively influenced individual element concentrations (for 13 and 9 elements out of 46 respectively) as well as the multi-elemental composition in wood. However, associations between wood and topsoil elemental concentrations were only significant for one element. We found close associations between element concentrations and composition in sapwood and heartwood. Lastly, the Random Forest assignment success was 97.3 %.
Our findings indicate that wood elemental composition is associated with that in the topsoil and its variation is related to soil clay and organic matter content. These associations suggests that the multi-elemental composition of wood can yield chemical fingerprints obtained from sites that differ in soil properties. This finding in addition to the high assignment accuracy shows potential of multi-element analysis for tracing wood origin.