Soil organic carbon changes and distribution in cultivated and restored grassland soils in Saskatchewan

  • J. D. J. Nelson
  • J. J. Schoenau
  • S. S. Malhi
Research Article


The impacts of grassland restoration on amounts, forms and distribution of soil organic carbon (SOC) were examined in paired cultivated and restored grassland catenae of the Missouri Coteau region in south-central Saskatchewan, Canada. Total SOC (0–15 cm depth) and light fraction organic carbon (LFOC) (0–7.5 cm) contents were determined in paired catenae in upland areas, and in the surface (0–15 cm) and at depth (>15 cm) in the wetland fringe areas. Mass of SOC was higher in the restored grassland catenae than in the cultivated equivalents. In both the cultivated and restored grassland catenae at the three sites, footslope positions consistently had a higher mass of SOC. However, the shoulder positions showed the greatest response in soil C sequestration to grass seed-down, with a 1.4–2.9 Mg ha−1 year−1 SOC increase apparent over an approximately eight-year period. The mass of LFOC and the proportion of SOC comprised of LFOC was also higher in the restored grassland, reflective of higher recent C inputs. Rates of C sequestration in the Missouri Coteau based on SOC differences in the paired comparisons were estimated to be 0.3–2.9 Mg C ha−1 year−1, depending upon site and slope position. In the wetland fringe region of the landscape, the three sites also had higher surface or subsurface SOC in the grassland restoration. In general, SOC changes at depth (below 15 cm) in the restored grasslands appeared to be less consistent than changes in SOC in the surface 0–15 cm soil. In conclusion, the findings suggest that a switch to permanent cover on these soils will significantly increase C sequestered in the soil.


Cultivated land Light fraction organic C Restored grassland Soil Total organic C 



The authors thank Ducks Unlimited, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada and the Center for Studies in Agriculture, Law and the Environment for financial support, R. Farrell and K. Van Rees for advice and revisions, and Tom King, Pam Clothier, T. Wu and Jeremy Nelson for technical help.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  • J. D. J. Nelson
    • 1
  • J. J. Schoenau
    • 1
  • S. S. Malhi
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of Soil ScienceUniversity of SaskatchewanSaskatoonCanada
  2. 2.Agriculture and Agri-Food CanadaMelfortCanada

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