Deep Soil Horizons: Contribution and Importance to Soil Carbon Pools and in Assessing Whole-Ecosystem Response to Management and Global Change
Abstract:Most of the C in terrestrial ecosystems is found in the soil. Although C calculations indicate that soils are more important than plants as reservoirs of C, soil rarely receives the attention given aboveground ecosystem components when C budgets are calculated. When soil pools are quantified they are typically sampled to relatively shallow depths. Shallow soil sampling in research includes studies that estimate C and nutrient pools and studies assessing the response of terrestrial ecosystems (i.e., forests, grasslands, and agricultural fields) to management treatments. Although many soils have sola that are substantially deeper than 20 cm and C accumulates well below these depths in many soils, the majority of studies of soil C sample to depths of 20 cm or less, generally because of the difficulty and cost of sampling the soil profile deeper. Shallow soil sampling is often justified by assuming that deeper soil horizons are stable and will not change over time, although some medium- and long-term studies do not support this assumption. Shallow soil sampling can result in both a major underestimate of soil C present in the soil profile and an inability to adequately measure the impacts of both treatments for specific goals (i.e., tillage, fertilization, and vegetation management) or other changes (i.e., global change and atmospheric inputs) over time in whole-ecosystem studies. We assessed the potential of shallow soil sampling to underestimate C in the soil profile as well as to change the conclusions of studies of management treatments on soil C. Results showed that where soils were sampled to at least 80 cm or more depth 27‐77% of mineral soil C was found >20 cm in depth. In addition, analysis of results for 105 different studies of N fertilization in forests and N fertilization or conversion to switchgrass in agricultural studies shows that deeper sampling can actually change the conclusions of results of some research studies of net C accumulation or loss. Researchers wishing to either quantify soil C pools or measure changes of soil C over time are cautioned to sample soil profiles as deeply as possible and not assume that deeper soil horizons are not a critical part of adequate ecosystem analysis.
Document Type: Research Article
Publication date: 2011-02-01
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