Soil organic carbon depletion in global Mollisols regions and restoration by management practices: a review

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Mollisols are the most fertile, high-yielding soils in the world. During the past several decades, Mollisols have lost about 50% of their antecedent organic carbon (C) pool due to soil erosion, degradation, and other unsuitable human activities. Therefore, restoring soil organic C (SOC) to Mollisols via reasonable management is crucial to sustainable development and is important for environmental stability. However, the existing literature on SOC and soil quality has focused on one soil type or on a given region where Mollisols occur, and the degree of SOC depletion and stabilization in Mollisols have not been comprehensively evaluated. Overall, we propose to develop an optimum scheme for managing Mollisols, and we outline specific issues concerning SOC restoration and prevention of SOC depletion.

Materials and methods

In this review, we identify the uncertainties involved in analyses of SOC in Mollisols as related to management practices. According to the existing literature on SOC in Mollisols at the global scale, we analyzed the results of SOC depletion research to assess management practices and to estimate the C amount stabilized in Mollisols.

Results and discussion

The review shows that the SOC stocks in Mollisols in North America under cropped systems had 51 ± 4 (equiv. mass) Mg ha−1 in the top 30 cm soil layer. The SOC contents in Northeast China decreased from 52 to 24 g kg−1 (46%) after 150 years of cultivation management. All of the Mollisols regions in the world are facing the challenge of SOC loss, and this trend could have a negative influence on global climate change. Hence, it is very important to take proper measures to maintain and enhance organic C contents in Mollisols.


We concluded that reasonable management practices, including no-tillage, manure and compost fertilization, crop straw returning, and mulching cultivation, are the recommended technologies. The C restoration in Mollisols is a truly win-win strategy for ensuring the security of food and soil resources while effectively mitigating global climate change. Thus, more attention should be given to protective management and land use for its impacts on SOC dynamics and soil properties in Mollisols regions.

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We gratefully acknowledge the financial funded by the National Natural Science Foundation of China (41977086, 41807086), basic research projects of Liaoning higher education institutions (LSNZD201705), and the financial support from the program of China Scholarships Council (NO. 201708210167). The authors thank the anonymous reviewers for their helpful comments that significantly improved the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Jingkuan Wang.

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Xu, X., Pei, J., Xu, Y. et al. Soil organic carbon depletion in global Mollisols regions and restoration by management practices: a review. J Soils Sediments (2020) doi:10.1007/s11368-019-02557-3

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  • Carbon depletion
  • Carbon restoration
  • Management practice
  • Mollisols
  • Soil organic carbon