, Volume 7, Issue 7, pp 729–739 | Cite as

Soil Organic Carbon and Water Retention after Conversion of Grasslands to Pine Plantations in the Ecuadorian Andes

  • Kathleen A. FarleyEmail author
  • Eugene F. Kelly
  • Robert G. M. Hofstede


Tree plantations in the high elevations of the tropics constitute a growing land use, but their effect on ecosystem processes and services is not well known. We examined changes in soil organic carbon (C) and water retention in a chronosequence of Pinus radiata stands planted in páramo grasslands in Cotopaxi province, Ecuador. Water retention at 10, 33, and 1,500 kPa declined with stand age, with soils in the oldest pine stands retaining 39%, 55%, and 63% less water than grassland soils at the three pressures tested. Soil organic C in the 0–10-cm depth also declined with stand age, from 5.0 kg m−2 in grasslands to 3.5 kg m−2 in 20–25-year-old pine stands (P < 0.001); at greater depth in the A horizon, C contents decreased from 2.8 to 1.2 kg m−2 (P = 0.047). There were no significant differences among age classes in the AC and C horizons (P = 0.15 and P = 0.34, respectively), where little or no weathering of the primary material has occurred. Inputs of C may be affected by the significantly higher carbon–nitrogen (C:N) ratio of the litter under older pine stands (P = 0.005), whereas outputs are influenced by substrate quality as well as soil environmental factors. Soil ratios at the 0–10 cm depth were significantly higher in grasslands and young pine stands (P < 0.001), whereas carbon–phosphorous (C:P) ratios at 0–10-cm depth followed a similar but not significant trend. However, there was no significant difference in short-term decomposition rates (P = 0.60) when the soils were incubated under uniform temperature and moisture conditions. In páramo ecosystems, where high soil moisture plays an important role in retarding decomposition and driving high C storage, the loss of water retention after afforestation may be the dominant factor in C loss. These results suggest that soil C buildup and water retention respond rapidly to changes in biota and need to be assessed with regard to implications for C sequestration and watershed management.


soil organic carbon soil water retention land-use change afforestation pine plantation Pinus páramo Andes ecosystem services 



We thank Juan Pablo Fontecilla and Aglomerados Cotopaxi, S.A., for access to the plantation and assistance in carrying out the study. We thank Mike Ryan for conducting the laboratory incubations and breg Butters for help with water retention analysis. Thanks to Tom Veblen and balo Medina for support throughout the project. We appreciate the effort of two anonymous reviewers who helped to improve this manuscript. This material is based on work supported by the National Science Foundation under grant no. 0002352, the University of Colorado Graduate School, the University of Colorado Developing Areas Research and Training Program, and the Colorado State University Agricultural Experimental Station.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, Inc. 2004

Authors and Affiliations

  • Kathleen A. Farley
    • 1
    Email author
  • Eugene F. Kelly
    • 2
  • Robert G. M. Hofstede
    • 3
    • 4
  1. 1.Department of GeographyUniversity of ColoradoBoulderUSA
  2. 2.Department of Soil and Crop SciencesColorado State UniversityFort CollinsUSA
  3. 3.Ecologia del Paramo y Bosques Ardinos ProjectQuito
  4. 4.Institute for Biodiversity and Ecosystem DynamicsUniversity of AmsterdamAmsterdamThe Netherlands

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