Patterns of woody plant-derived soil carbon losses and persistence after brush management in a semi-arid grassland
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Woody encroachment and subsequent brush management aimed at reducing woody plant cover can alter soil organic carbon (SOC) pools. However, brush management influences on the sources and stability of SOC is unknown. Using a space-for-time approach in a site with closely co-located patches representing unencroached grassland, woody encroachment, and brush management, we coupled stable isotopes and plant-derived biomarkers to quantify how woody encroachment alters input sources and stability of SOC and how these patterns change with brush management.
Stable isotopes, lignin-derived phenols, substituted fatty acids, and carbon content of density fractions were measured in soils collected in shrub canopy interspaces, under live shrubs, and under shrubs killed 8 or 52 y previously.
Bulk SOC and C3-derived SOC were higher in shallow soil (0–5 cm) under live shrubs than in interspace soil. Long-term brush management showed a decline in total SOC stocks, substituted fatty acids, and C3-derived SOC that were associated with the soil light fraction. Despite declines in bulk SOC following brush management, accumulated C3-derived SOC pools in the dense fraction remained largely stable following brush management.
Woody encroachment increases the proportion of poorly-protected light fraction and loosely-mineral associated SOC derived from leaf litter, which is lost within several decades after brush management. However, woody encroachment produced a stabilized mineral-bound pool of C3- and C4-derived SOC that remained 52 years after brush management, suggesting that woody encroachment has the potential for long-term SOC stabilization.
KeywordsCarbon isotopes Cupric oxide oxidation Lignin-derived phenols Sonoran Desert Woody encroachment
This research was supported by US National Science Foundation grant DEB 0953864. Thanks to J.G. Smith for help with soil collection and M. R. Bravo-Garza, K. Slown, and C. Elam for help with sample processing. D. Gamblin and N. Louden helped with the CuO oxidation analyses. We appreciate constructive comments on a previous version of the manuscript from J. Schafer and two anonymous reviewers.
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