Plant and Soil

, Volume 422, Issue 1–2, pp 527–539 | Cite as

Soil organic carbon changes following degradation and conversion to cypress and tea plantations in a tropical mountain forest in Kenya

  • T. ChitiEmail author
  • E. Díaz-Pinés
  • K. Butterbach-Bahl
  • F. Marzaioli
  • R. Valentini
Regular Article



This study investigates, in a montane forest in Kenya, the changes in amount and stability of soil organic carbon (SOC) as a consequence of: a) forest degradation, by comparing primary and degraded forests; b) the replacement of degraded forests with cypress and tea plantations, by considering sites installed at different time in the past.


The SOC concentrations and stocks were determined in different layers to 1 m depth, and the SOC turnover time (TT) derived by measuring the 14C concentration in the layers within the 0–30 cm depth.


A significant SOC decline was evident in the 0–5 and 5–15 cm layers of degraded forest while, on the long term, both plantations induced a significant SOC increase in the 0–30 cm depth. The longer TT’s and lower SOC concentrations in the upper layers of degraded rather than primary forests imply an impact of forest degradation on the decomposition of the fast cycling SOC. Similarly, the shorter TT with increasing plantations age implies differences in SOC stabilization mechanisms between plantations and forests.


Cypress and tea plantations established on degraded forests stimulate a long term SOC accrual but at the same time decrease the stability of the SOC pool.


Cash crop plantations Forest degradation Tree plantations Tropical montane forests Turnover time 



This work received the financial contribution of the “ERC Africa GHG project” (# n° 037132). The authors gratefully acknowledge the Tea Research Institute of Kericho, and the rangers of the Kenyan Forest Service for the assistance and support provided. All authors have no conflict of interests to declare.

Supplementary material

11104_2017_3489_MOESM1_ESM.docx (144 kb)
ESM 1 (DOCX 143 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG, part of Springer Nature 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Dipartimento per la Innovazione nei Sistemi Biologici, Agroalimentari e Forestali (DIBAF)Università della TusciaViterboItaly
  2. 2.Euromediterranean Center on Climate Change (CMCC), Impacts on Agriculture, Forests and Ecosystem Services Division (IAFES)ViterboItaly
  3. 3.Far Eastern Federal University (FEFU)VladivostokRussia
  4. 4.Department of Bio-Geo-Chemical ProcessesKarlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT), Institute of Meteorology and Climate Research – Atmospheric Environmental Research (IMK-IFU)Garmisch-PartenkirchenGermany
  5. 5.Institute of Soil ResearchUniversity of Natural Resources and Life Sciences (BOKU)ViennaAustria
  6. 6.Mazingira Centre, International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI)NairobiKenya
  7. 7.Dipartimento di Matematica e FisicaSeconda Università di NapoliCasertaItaly

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