, Volume 20, Issue 3, pp 161–193 | Cite as

Changes in soil carbon inventories following cultivation of previously untilled soils

  • Eric A. Davidson
  • Ilse L. Ackerman


Cultivation of previously untilled soils usually results in release of carbon from the soil to the atmosphere, which can affect both soil fertility locally and the atmospheric burden of CO2 globally. Generalizations about the magnitude of this flux have been hampered by a lack of good quality comparative data on soil carbon stocks of cultivated and uncultivated soils. Using data from several recent studies, we have reexamined the conclusions of previous reviews of this subject. The data were divided into subsets according to whether the soils were sampled by genetic horizon or by fixed depths. Sampling by fixed depths appears to underestimate soil C losses, but both subsets of data support earlier conclusions that between 20% and 40% of the soil C is lost following cultivation. Our best estimate is a loss of about 30% from the entire soil solum. Our analysis also supports the conclusion that most of the loss of soil C occurs within the first few Years (even within two Years in some cases) following initial cultivation. Our analysis does not support an earlier conclusion that the fractional loss of soil carbon is positively correlated to the amount of carbon initially present in the uncultivated soil. We found no relation between carbon content of uncultivated soil and the percentage lost following cultivation.

Key words

carbon cycle land-use change organic carbon tillage 


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Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 1993

Authors and Affiliations

  • Eric A. Davidson
    • 1
  • Ilse L. Ackerman
    • 1
  1. 1.The Woods Hole Research CenterWoods HoleUSA

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