, Volume 14, Issue 2, pp 287–297 | Cite as

Accumulation of Carbon and Nitrogen in Residential Soils with Different Land-Use Histories

  • Steve M. RacitiEmail author
  • Peter M. Groffman
  • Jennifer C. Jenkins
  • Richard V. Pouyat
  • Timothy J. Fahey
  • Steward T. A. Pickett
  • Mary L. Cadenasso


Urban areas are growing in size and importance; however, we are only beginning to understand how the process of urbanization influences ecosystem dynamics. In particular, there have been few assessments of how the land-use history and age of residential soils influence carbon (C) and nitrogen (N) pools and fluxes, especially at depth. In this study, we used 1-m soil cores to evaluate soil profile characteristics and C and N pools in 32 residential home lawns that differed by previous land use and age, but had similar soil types. These were compared to soils from eight forested reference sites. Residential soils had significantly higher C and N densities than nearby forested soils of similar types (6.95 vs. 5.44 kg C/m2 and 552 vs. 403 g N/m2, P < 0.05). Results from our chronosequence suggest that soils at residential sites that were previously in agriculture have the potential to accumulate C (0.082 kg C/m2/y) and N (8.3 g N/m2/y) rapidly after residential development. Rates of N accumulation at these sites were similar in magnitude to estimated fertilizer N inputs, confirming a high capacity for N retention. Residential sites that were forested prior to development had higher C and N densities than present-day forests, but our chronosequence did not reveal a significant pattern of increasing C and N density over time in previously forested sites. These data suggest that soils in residential areas on former agricultural land have a significant capacity to sequester C and N. Given the large area of these soils, they are undoubtedly significant in regional C and N balances.

Key words

carbon nitrogen soil residential urban lawn turfgrass forest development land use 



This research was supported by the National Science Foundation Ecosystem Studies and LTER programs (Grant numbers DEB-0444919 and DEB-9714835). The authors thank Dan Dillon, David Lewis, Lisa Martel, Giovanna McClenachan, Ellen Schmidt, Robin Schmidt, Kirsten Schwarz and Ian Yesilonis for help with field sampling, laboratory analysis, advice and project planning. The authors extend a special thanks to the homeowners who provided access to their properties.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  • Steve M. Raciti
    • 1
    • 6
    Email author
  • Peter M. Groffman
    • 2
  • Jennifer C. Jenkins
    • 3
  • Richard V. Pouyat
    • 4
  • Timothy J. Fahey
    • 1
  • Steward T. A. Pickett
    • 2
  • Mary L. Cadenasso
    • 5
  1. 1.Department of Natural ResourcesCornell UniversityIthacaUSA
  2. 2.Cary Institute of Ecosystem StudiesMillbrookUSA
  3. 3.Climate Change DivisionUS Environmental Protection AgencyWashingtonUSA
  4. 4.USDA Forest ServiceArlington22209-2137USA
  5. 5.Department of Plant SciencesUniversity of CaliforniaDavisUSA
  6. 6.Department of Geography and EnvironmentBoston UniversityBostonUSA

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