Soil organic carbon dynamics of black locust plantations in the middle Loess Plateau area of China
Soil organic carbon (SOC) is the largest terrestrial carbon pool and sensitive to land use and cover change; its dynamics are critical for carbon cycling in terrestrial ecosystems and the atmosphere. In this study, we combined a modeling approach and field measurements to examine the temporal dynamics of SOC following afforestation ( Robinia pseudoacacia) of former arable land at six sites under different climatic conditions in the Loess Plateau during 1980–2010, where the annual mean precipitation ranging from 450 mm to 600 mm. The results showed that the measured mean SOC increased to levels higher than before afforestation when taking the last measurements (i.e., at age 25 to 30 yr) at all the sites, although it decreased at the wetter sites in the first few years. The accumulation rates of SOC were 1.58 to 6.22% yr −1 in the upper 20 cm and 1.62 to 5.15% yr −1in the upper 40 cm of soil. The simulations reproduced the basic characteristics of measured SOC dynamics, suggesting that litter input and climatic factors (temperature and precipitation) were the major causes for SOC dynamics and the differences among the sites. They explained 88–96, 48–86 and 57–74% of the variations in annual SOC changes at the soil depths of 0–20, 0–40, and 0–100 cm, respectively. Notably, the simulated SOC decreased during the first few years at all the sites, although the magnitudes of decreases were smaller at the drier sites. This suggested that the modeling may be advantageous in capturing SOC changes at finer timescale. The discrepancy between the simulation and measurement was a result of uncertainties in model structure, data input, and sampling design. Our findings indicated that afforestation promoted soil carbon sequestration at the study sites during 1980–2010. Afforestation activities should decrease soil disturbances to reduce carbon release in the early stage. The long-term strategy for carbon fixation capability of the plantations should also consider the climate and site conditions, species adaptability, and successional stage of recovery.