Plant and Soil

, Volume 368, Issue 1–2, pp 619–627

Dynamics of soil and root C stocks following afforestation of croplands with poplars in a semi-arid region in northeast China

Regular Article


Background and aims

Afforestation on croplands can help sequester atmospheric CO2 through increased carbon (C) storage in the soil and vegetation. However, the dynamics of soil organic C (SOC) and root C stocks, particularly those in the deeper soil layers, following afforestation are not well documented for semi-arid regions. The aim of this study was to investigate the dynamics of soil and root C stocks to 1 m depth following afforestation with poplar (Populus × xiaozhuanica W. Y. Hsu & Liang) on croplands at the Keerqin Sandy Lands in northeast China.


Forest floor, root and mineral soil samples were collected from 23 paired plots of poplar plantations with different stand basal areas (SBA, ranging from 0.2 m2 ha−1 to 32.6 m2 ha−1) and reference croplands using a paired-site design. Changes of SOC concentration and content, and root C content were analyzed using paired t tests, and the relationships between forest floor C content, soil and root ΔC (ΔC refers to the difference in C stocks between a poplar plantation and the paired cropland) and SBA were tested with a polynomial regression analysis.


Afforestation resulted in linear increases of ΔC in the forest floor and 0–10 cm mineral soil with SBA (R2 = 0.67, p < 0.001 and R2 = 0.34, p = 0.003, respectively), but there were no clear relationships between SOC stocks in the soil deeper than 10 cm and SBA. The fine root C stock increased by afforestation across all the soil layers (p < 0.05), and root ΔC had a quadratic curve (the first two mineral soil layers) or linear (the other mineral soil layers) relationship with SBA. About 73 % of the variance of ΔC in the top soil was explained by changes in the forest floor C stock, but changes in plant derived C stocks did not explain the variance of soil ΔC in the deeper layers very well.


Our study suggest that afforestation increased C sequestration in the forest floor and surface mineral soil, and C stocks in the forest floor and surface mineral soil and roots were strongly controlled by the SBA, which changes with stand development, in the studied semiarid region in northeast China.


Afforestation C stock Cropland Poplar plantation Sandy soil Semi-arid region 


  1. Agnelli A, Ascher J, Corti G, Ceccherini MT, Nannipieri P, Pietramellara G (2004) Distribution of microbial communities in a forest soil profile investigated by microbial biomass, soil respiration and DGGE of total and extracellular DNA. Soil Biol Biochem 36:859–868CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Arai H, Tokuchi N (2010) Factors contributing to greater soil organic carbon accumulation after afforestation in a Japanese coniferous plantation as determined by stable and radioactive isotopes. Geoderma 157:243–251CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Arevalo CBM, Bhatti JS, Chang SX, Sidders D (2009) Ecosystem carbon stocks and distribution under different land-uses in north central Alberta, Canada. For Ecol Manag 257:1776–1785CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Arevalo CBM, Bhatti JS, Chang SX, Sidders D (2011) Land use change effects on ecosystem carbon balance: from agricultural to hybrid poplar plantation. Agr Ecosyst Environ 141:342–349CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Berthrong ST, Jobbagy EG, Jackson RB (2009) A global meta-analysis of soil exchangeable cations, pH, carbon, and nitrogen with afforestation. Ecol Appl 19:2228–2241PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Binkley D, Resh SC (1999) Rapid changes in soils following eucalyptus afforestation in Hawaii. Soil Sci Soc Am J 63:222–225CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Borken W, Kossmann G, Matzner E (2007) Biomass, morphology and nutrient contents of fine roots in four Norway spruce stands. Plant Soil 292:79–83CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Cao S (2008) Why large-scale afforestation efforts in China have failed to solve the desertification. Environ Sci Technol 42:1826–1831PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Clark JD, Johnson AH (2011) Carbon and nitrogen accumulation in post-agricultural forest soils of Western New England. Soil Sci Soc Am J 75:1530–1542CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Davis MR, Condron LM (2002) Impact of grassland afforestation on soil carbon in New Zealand: a review of paired-site studies. Aust J Soil Res 40:675–690CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Dixon RK, Brown S, Houghton RA, Solomon AM, Trexler MC, Wisniewski J (1994) Carbon pools and flux of global forest ecosystems. Science 263:185–190PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Fontaine S, Barot S, Barré P, Bdioui N, Mary B, Rumpel C (2007) Stability of organic carbon in deep soil layers controlled by fresh carbon supply. Nature 450:277–281PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Guo LB, Gifford RM (2002) Soil carbon stocks and land use change: a meta analysis. Global Change Biol 8:345–360CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Helmisaari H, Derome J, Nöjd P, Kukkola M (2007) Fine root biomass in relation to site and stand characteristics in Norway spruce and Scots pine stands. Tree Physiol 27:1493–1504PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Hernandez-Ramirez G, Sauer TJ, Cambardella CA, Brandle JR, James DE (2011) Carbon sources and dynamics in afforested and cultivated corn belt soils. Soil Sci Soc Am J 75:216–225CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Hooker TD, Compton JE (2003) Forest ecosystem carbon and nitrogen accumulation during the first century after agricultural abandonment. Ecol Appl 13:299–313CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Hu YL, Zeng DH, Fan ZP, Chen GS, Zhao Q, Pepper D (2008) Changes in ecosystem carbon stocks following grassland afforestation of semiarid sandy soil in the southeastern Keerqin Sandy Lands, China. J Arid Environ 72:2193–2200CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Jobbágy EG, Jackson RB (2000) The vertical distribution of soil organic carbon and its relation to climate and vegetation. Ecol Appl 10:423–436CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Jug A, Makeschin F, Rehfuess KE, Hofmann-Schielle C (1999) Short-rotation plantations of balsam poplars, aspen and willows on former arable land in the Federal Republic of Germany. III. Soil ecological effects. For Ecol Manag 121:85–99CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Karhu K, Wall A, Vanhala P, Liski J, Esala M, Regina K (2011) Effects of afforestation and deforestation on boreal soil carbon stocks: comparison of measured C stocks with Yasso07 model results. Geoderma 164:33–45CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Laganière J, Angers DA, Paré D (2010) Carbon accumulation in agricultural soils after afforestation: a meta-analysis. Glob Change Biol 16:439–453CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Li D, Niu S, Luo Y (2012) Global patterns of the dynamics of soil carbon and nitrogen stocks following afforestation: a meta-analysis. New Phytol 195:172–181PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Mao R, Zeng DH, Hu YL, Li LJ, Yang D (2010) Soil organic carbon and nitrogen stocks in an age-sequence of poplar stands planted on marginal agricultural land in Northeast China. Plant Soil 332:277–287CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Nelson DW, Sommers LE (1996) Total carbon, organic carbon and organic matter. In: Sparks DL (ed) Methods of soil analysis. Part 3. Chemical methods. Wisconsin, USA, pp 961–1010Google Scholar
  25. Nilsson S, Schopfhauser W (1995) The carbon-sequestration potential of a global afforestation program. Clim Chang 30:267–293CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Olupot G, Daniel H, Lockwood P, McHenry M, McLeod M (2010) Root contributions to long-term storage of soil organic carbon: theories, mechanisms and gaps. 19th World Congress of Soil Science, Soil Solutions for a Changing World. 1–6 August 2010, Brisbane, AustraliaGoogle Scholar
  27. Paul KI, Polglase PJ, Nyakuengama JG, Khanna PK (2002) Change in soil carbon following afforestation. For Ecol Manag 168:241–257CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Peichl M, Leava NA, Keily G (2010) Above- and belowground ecosystem biomass, carbon and nitrogen allocation in recently afforested grassland and adjacent intensively managed grassland. Plant Soil 350:281–296CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Pellegrino E, Bene CD, Tozzini C, Bonari E (2011) Impact on soil quality of a 10-year-old short-rotation coppice poplar stand compared with intensive agricultural and uncultivated systems in a Mediterranean area. Agr Ecosyst Environ 140:245–254CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Persson HÅ (2012) The high input of soil organic matter from dead tree fine roots into the forest soil. Intern J For Res. doi:10.1155/2012/217404
  31. Post WM, Kwon KC (2000) Soil carbon sequestration and land-use change: processes and potential. Global Change Biol 6:317–328CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Rasse DP, Rumpel C, Dignac M (2005) Is soil carbon mostly root carbon? Mechanisms for a specific stabilization. Plant Soil 269:341–356CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Richter DD, Markewitz D, Trumbore SE, Wells CG (1999) Rapid accumulation and turnover of soil carbon in a re-establishing forest. Nature 400:56–58CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Rumpel C, Kögel-Knabner I (2011) Deep soil organic matter: a key but poorly understood component of terrestrial C cycle. Plant Soil 338:143–158CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Salomé C, Nunan N, Pouteau V, Lerch TZ, Chenu C (2010) Carbon dynamics in topsoil and in subsoil may be controlled by different regulatory mechanisms. Global Change Biol 16:416–426CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Schmidt MWI, Torn MS, Abiven S, Dittmar T, Guggenberger G, Janssens IA, Kleber M, Kögel-Knabner I, Johannes L, Manning DAC, Nannipieri P, Rasse DP, Weiner S, Trumbore SE (2011) Persistence of soil organic matter as an ecosystem property. Nature 478:49–56PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Vesterdal L, Ritter E, Gundersen P (2002) Change in soil organic carbon following afforestation of former arable land. For Ecol Manag 169:137–147CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Zhenghu D, Honglang X, Zhibao D, Gang W, Drake S (2007) Morphological, physical and chemical properties of aeolian sandy soils in northern China. J Arid Environ 68:66–76CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • Ya-Lin Hu
    • 1
  • De-Hui Zeng
    • 1
  • Scott X. Chang
    • 2
  • Rong Mao
    • 3
  1. 1.State Key Laboratory of Forest and Soil Ecology, Institute of Applied EcologyChinese Academy of SciencesShenyangPeople’s Republic of China
  2. 2.Department of Renewable ResourcesUniversity of AlbertaEdmontonCanada
  3. 3.Northeast Institute of Geography and AgroecologyChinese Academy of SciencesChangchunPeople’s Republic of China

Personalised recommendations