The limited effect of deforestation on stabilized subsoil organic carbon in a subtropical catchment

Müller, Claude Raoul; Six, Johan; Brosens, Liesa; Baumann, Philipp; Minella, Jean Paolo Gomes; Govers, Gerard; Van de Broek, Marijn

Predicting the quantity of soil organic carbon (SOC) requires understanding how different factors control the amount of SOC. Land use has a major influence on the function of the soil as a carbon sink, as shown by substantial organic carbon (OC) losses from the soil upon deforestation. However, predicting the degree to which land use change affects the OC content in soils and the depth down to which this occurs requires context-specific information related to, for example, climate, geochemistry, and land use history. In this study, 266 samples from forests and agricultural fields were collected from 94 soil profiles down to 300 inline-formulacm depth in a subtropical region (Arvorezinha, southern Brazil) to study the impact of land use on the amount of stabilized OC along the soil profile. We found that the stabilized OC content was not affected by land use below a depth of 90 inline-formulacm. Along the soil profile, the amount of stabilized OC was predominantly controlled by land use and depth in addition to the silt and clay content and aluminium ion concentrations. Below 100 inline-formulacm, none of the soil profiles reached a concentration of stabilized OC above 50 % of the stabilized OC saturation point (i.e. the maximum OC concentration that can physically be stabilized in these soils). Based on these results, we argue that it is unlikely that deeper soil layers can serve as an OC sink over a timescale relevant to global climate change due to the limited OC input in these deeper layers. Furthermore, we found that the soil weathering degree was not a relevant control on the amount of stabilized OC in our profiles because of the high weathering degree of the studied soils. It is therefore suggested that, while the soil weathering degree might be an effective controlling factor of OC stabilization over a large spatial scale, it is not an informative measure for this process at regional and local scales (with similar climate, bedrock, and weathering history) in highly weathered soils.

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Müller, Claude Raoul / Six, Johan / Brosens, Liesa / et al: The limited effect of deforestation on stabilized subsoil organic carbon in a subtropical catchment. 2024. Copernicus Publications.

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