Journal of Soils and Sediments

, Volume 14, Issue 1, pp 34–43 | Cite as

Soil carbon and nitrogen storage in alluvial wet meadows of the Southern Sierra Nevada Mountains, USA

  • Jay B. Norton
  • Hayley R. Olsen
  • Laura J. Jungst
  • David E. Legg
  • William R. Horwath



Wet meadows formed on alluvial deposits potentially store large amounts of soil carbon (C) but its stability is subject to the impacts of management practices. The objective of this study was to quantify and characterize soil organic carbon (SOC) and nitrogen (N) in mountain wet meadows across ranges of meadow hydrology and livestock utilization.

Materials and methods

Eighteen wetlands in the southern Sierra Nevada Mountains representing a range of wetness and livestock utilization levels were selected for soil sampling. In each wetland meadow, whole-solum soil cores delineated by horizon were analyzed for total and dissolved organic C (DOC) total (TN) and mineral nitrogen and soil water content (SWC). Multiple regression and GIS analysis was used to estimate the role of wet meadows in C storage across the study area landscape.

Results and discussion

Average solum SOC contents by wetland ranged from 130 to 805 Mg ha−1. All SOC and TN components were highly correlated with SWC. Regression analyses indicated subtle impacts of forage utilization level on SOC and TN concentrations, but not on whole-solum, mass-per-area stocks of SOC and TN. Proportions of DOC and TN under seasonally wet meadows increased with increasing utilization. GIS analysis indicated that the montane landscape contains about 54.3 Mg SOC ha−1, with wet meadows covering about 1.7% of the area and containing about 12.3% of the SOC.


Results indicate that soil organic C and N content of meadows we sampled are resilient to current light to moderate levels of grazing. In seasonally wet meadows, higher proportions of DOC and N with increasing utilization indicate vulnerability to loss. Partial drying of the wettest and seasonally wet meadows could result in losses of over five % of landscape SOC.


Dissolved organic carbon and nitrogen Livestock grazing Montane and subalpine meadows Soil organic carbon and nitrogen Soil organic matter Wetland soils 



This work was funded by the Kearney Foundation of Soil Science, the University of California Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources analytical lab advisory committee, and the University of Wyoming College of Agriculture and Natural Resources. We thank Urszula Norton, Timothy Doane, Mary Innes, Jocelyn Glatthaar, Heather Enloe and Zachary Faulkner for their field and laboratory support. We are also grateful to Leslie Roche for utilization levels and hydrological rankings and for reviewing earlier drafts, to Ken Tate, and Anthony O'Geen for review of earlier drafts, to Erin Bast for help with GIS analysis, and to Larry Munn for assistance with soil classification.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • Jay B. Norton
    • 1
  • Hayley R. Olsen
    • 1
  • Laura J. Jungst
    • 2
  • David E. Legg
    • 1
  • William R. Horwath
    • 3
  1. 1.Department of Ecosystem Science and ManagementUniversity of WyomingLaramieUSA
  2. 2.Kootenai National ForestLibbyUSA
  3. 3.Department of Land, Air, and Water ResourcesUniversity of California DavisDavisUSA

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