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Soil Science Society of America Journal Abstract - Forest, Range & Wildland Soils

Afforestation Effects on Soil Carbon Storage in the United States: A Synthesis


This article in SSSAJ

  1. Vol. 77 No. 3, p. 1035-1047
    Received: Aug 01, 2012
    Published: April 1, 2013

    * Corresponding author(s): lukenave@umich.edu
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  1. L. E. Nave *a,
  2. C. W. Swanstonb,
  3. U. Mishrac and
  4. K. J. Nadelhofferd
  1. a University of Michigan Biological Station and Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology Pellston, MI 49769
    b USDA-Forest Service Northern Research Station Houghton, MI 49931
    c Lawrence-Berkeley National Laboratory Berkeley, CA 94720 currently at Argonne National Laboratory Environmental Science Division Argonne, IL 60439
    d University of Michigan Biological Station and Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology Pellston, MI 49769


Afforestation (tree establishment on nonforested land) is a management option for increasing terrestrial C sequestration and mitigating rising atmospheric carbon dioxide because, compared to nonforested land uses, afforestation increases C storage in aboveground pools. However, because terrestrial ecosystems typically store most of their C in soils, afforestation impacts on soil organic carbon (SOC) storage are critical components of ecosystem C budgets. We applied synthesis methods to identify the magnitude and drivers of afforestation impacts on SOC, and the temporal and vertical distributions of SOC change during afforestation in the United States. Meta-analysis of 39 papers from 1957 to 2010 indicated that previous land use drives afforestation impacts on SOC in mineral soils (overall average = +21%), but mined and other industrial lands (+173%) and wildlands (+31%) were the only groups that specifically showed categorically significant increases. Temporal patterns of SOC increase were statistically significant on former industrial and agricultural lands (assessed by continuous meta-analysis), and suggested that meaningful SOC increases require ≥15 and 30 yr of afforestation, respectively. Meta-analysis of 13C data demonstrated the greatest SOC changes occur at the surface soil of the profile, although partial replacement of C stocks derived from previous land uses was frequently detectable below 1 m. A geospatial analysis of 409 profiles from the National Soil Carbon Network database supported 13C meta-analysis results, indicating that transition from cultivation to forest increased A horizon SOC by 32%. In sum, our findings demonstrate that afforestation has significant, positive effects on SOC sequestration in the United States, although these effects require decades to manifest and primarily occur in the uppermost (and perhaps most vulnerable) portion of the mineral soil profile.

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