Plant and Soil

, Volume 370, Issue 1–2, pp 625–639 | Cite as

Causes of variation in mineral soil C content and turnover in differently managed beech dominated forests

  • Ingo Schöning
  • Erik Grüneberg
  • Carlos A. Sierra
  • Dominik Hessenmöller
  • Marion Schrumpf
  • Wolfgang W. Weisser
  • Ernst-Detlef Schulze
Regular Article


Background and aims

Forest soils are important carbon stores and considered as net CO2 sinks over decadal to centennial time scales. Intensive forest management is thought to reduce the carbon sequestration potential of forest soils. Here we study the effects of decades of forest management (as unmanaged forest, forest under selection cutting, forest under age class management) on the turnover of mineral associated soil organic matter (MOM) in German beech (Fagus sylvatica L.) dominated forests.


Radiocarbon contents were determined by accelerator mass spectrometry (AMS) in 79 Ah horizon MOM fractions of Cambisols (n = 13), Luvisols (n = 51) and Stagnosols (n = 15). Mean residence times (MRTs) for soil organic carbon (SOC) were estimated with a 2-pool model using the litter input derived from a forest inventory.


MOM fractions from Ah horizons contained 64 ± 8.8 % of the bulk SOC. The radiocarbon content of MOM fractions in Ah horizons, expressed as Δ14C, ranged between −2.8 ‰ and 114 ‰ for the three soil groups. Almost all samples contained a detectable proportion of ‘bomb’ carbon fixed from the atmosphere since 1963. Under the assumption that depending on the soil texture between 19 % and 24 % of the SOC from the labile pool is transferred to the stable SOC pool, the corresponding MRTs ranged between 72 and 723 years, with a median of 164 years.


Our results indicate that the MOM fraction of Ah horizons from beech forests contained a high proportion of young carbon, but we did not find a significant decadal effect of forest management on the radiocarbon signature and related turnover times. Instead, both variables were controlled by clay contents and associated SOC concentrations (p < 0.01). This underlines the importance of pedogenic properties for SOC turnover in the MOM fraction.


Forest management Carbon sequestration Radiocarbon (14C) dating Density fractionation Soil organic matter stabilization Mineral associated organic matter 



We thank Susan E. Trumbore and the reviewers for their helpful comments on a earlier version of the manuscript. We also thank Kathrin Henkel and Knut Mehler for help with the soil sampling and Claudia Seilwinder for help with the forest inventories. Iris Kuhlmann, Sarah Walter and Nils Reinhardt are acknowledged for the help with the physical fractionation of soil samples, Ines Hilke and Birgit Fröhlich for the CN analysis and Axel Steinhof for the radiocarbon analysis. We are grateful to Sonja Gockel and Simone Pfeiffer for their work in maintaining the plot and project infrastructure in the Hainich. The work has been funded by the DFG Priority Program 1374 “Infrastructure-Biodiversity-Exploratories” and the Max-Planck-Society. Markus Fischer, Elisabeth Kalko, Eduard Linsenmair, Jens Nieschulze, Daniel Prati, François Buscot are acknowledged for their contribution in setting up the Biodiversity Exploratories project. Field work permits were issued by the responsible state environmental offices of Thüringen (according to § 72 BbgNatSchG).


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • Ingo Schöning
    • 1
    • 2
  • Erik Grüneberg
    • 2
    • 3
  • Carlos A. Sierra
    • 1
  • Dominik Hessenmöller
    • 1
  • Marion Schrumpf
    • 1
  • Wolfgang W. Weisser
    • 2
  • Ernst-Detlef Schulze
    • 1
  1. 1.Max Planck Institute for BiogeochemistryJenaGermany
  2. 2.Institute of EcologyUniversity of JenaJenaGermany
  3. 3.Institute of Experimental EcologyUniversity of UlmUlmGermany

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