, Volume 87, Issue 3, pp 247-263,
Open Access This content is freely available online to anyone, anywhere at any time.
Date: 14 Feb 2008

Stabilization of recent soil carbon in the humid tropics following land use changes: evidence from aggregate fractionation and stable isotope analyses


Quantitative knowledge of stabilization- and decomposition processes is necessary to understand, assess and predict effects of land use changes on storage and stability of soil organic carbon (soil C) in the tropics. Although it is well documented that different soil types have different soil C stocks, it is presently unknown how different soil types affect the stability of recently formed soil C. Here, we analyze the main controls of soil C storage in the top 0.1 m of soils developed on Tertiary sediments and soils developed on volcanic ashes. Using a combination of fractionation techniques with 13C isotopes analyses we had the opportunity to trace origin and stability of soil carbon in different aggregate fractions under pasture and secondary forest. Soil C contents were higher in volcanic ash soils (47130 g kg−1) than in sedimentary soils (1950 g kg−1). Mean residence time (MRT) of forest-derived carbon in pastures increased from 37 to 57 years with increasing silt + clay content in sedimentary soils, but was independent from soil properties in volcanic ash soils. MRTs of pasture-derived carbon in secondary forests were considerably shorter, especially in volcanic ash soils, where no pasture-derived carbon could be detected in any of the four studied secondary forests. The implications of these results are that the MRT of recently incorporated organic carbon depends on clay mineralogy and is longer in soils dominated by smectite than non-crystalline minerals. Our results show that the presence of soil C stabilization processes, does not necessarily mean that recent incorporated soil C will also be effectively stabilized.