Evaluating the effects of soil erosion and productivity decline on soil carbon dynamics using a model-based approach
Sustained accelerated soil erosion alters key soil properties such as nutrient availability, water holding capacity, soil depth and texture, which in turn have detrimental effects on crop productivity and therefore reduce C input to soils. In this study, we applied a 1-D soil profile model that links soil organic carbon (SOC) turnover, soil erosion and biomass production. We used observational data to constrain the relationship between soil erosion and crop productivity. Assuming no change in effort, we evaluated the model performance in terms of SOC stock evolution using published observational data from 10 catchments across Europe and the USA. Model simulations showed that accounting for erosion-induced productivity decline (i) increased SOC losses by 37 % on average compared to a scenario where these effects were excluded, and (ii) improved the prediction of SOC losses when substantial soil truncation takes place. Furthermore, erosion-induced productivity decline reduced soil–atmosphere C exchanges by up to 30 % after 200 years of transient simulation. The results are thus relevant for longer-term assessments and they stress the need for integrated soil–plant models that operate at the landscape scale to better constrain the overall SOC budget.