Skip to main content

Changes in soil carbon inventories following cultivation of previously untilled soils

Abstract

Cultivation of previously untilled soils usually results in release of carbon from the soil to the atmosphere, which can affect both soil fertility locally and the atmospheric burden of CO2 globally. Generalizations about the magnitude of this flux have been hampered by a lack of good quality comparative data on soil carbon stocks of cultivated and uncultivated soils. Using data from several recent studies, we have reexamined the conclusions of previous reviews of this subject. The data were divided into subsets according to whether the soils were sampled by genetic horizon or by fixed depths. Sampling by fixed depths appears to underestimate soil C losses, but both subsets of data support earlier conclusions that between 20% and 40% of the soil C is lost following cultivation. Our best estimate is a loss of about 30% from the entire soil solum. Our analysis also supports the conclusion that most of the loss of soil C occurs within the first few Years (even within two Years in some cases) following initial cultivation. Our analysis does not support an earlier conclusion that the fractional loss of soil carbon is positively correlated to the amount of carbon initially present in the uncultivated soil. We found no relation between carbon content of uncultivated soil and the percentage lost following cultivation.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

References

  • Aguilar R, Kelley EF & Heil RD (1988) Effects of cultivation on soils in northern great plains rangeland. Soil Sci. Am. J. 52: 1081–1085

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Allen JC (1985) Soil response to forest clearing in the United States and the tropics: geological and biological factors. Biotropica 17: 15–22

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Blank RR & Fosberg MA (1989) Cultivated and adjacent virgin soils in northcentral South Dakota: I. Chemical and physical comparisons. Soil Sci. Soc. Am. J. 53: 1484–1490

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Bouma J & Hole FD (1971) Soil structure and hydraulic conductivity of adjacent virgin and cultivated pedons at two sites: A typic argiudoll (silt loam) and a typic eutrochrept (clay). Soil Sci. Soc. Amer. Proc. 35: 316–319

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Bowman RA, Reeder JD & Lober RW (1990) Changes in soil properties in a central plains rangeland soil after 3, 20, and 60 Years of cultivation. Soil Sci. 150: 851–857

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Brown S & Lugo AE (1990) Effects of forest clearing and succession on the carbon and nitrogen content of soils in Puerto Rico and US Virgin Islands. Plant and Soil 124: 53–64

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Burke C, Yonker CM, Parton WJ, Cole CV, Flach K & Schimel DS (1989) Texture, climate, and cultivation effects on soil organic matter content in U.S. grassland soils. Soil Sci. Am. J. 53: 800–805

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Buyanovsky GA, Kucera CL & Wagner GH (1987) Comparative analyses of carbon dynamics in native and cultivated ecosystems. Ecology 68: 2023–2031

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Coote DR & Ramsey JF (1983) Quantification of the effects of over 35 Years of intensive cultivation on four soils. Can. J. Soil Sci. 63: 1–14

    Google Scholar 

  • Detwiler RP (1986) Land use change and the global carbon cycle: the role of tropical soils. Biogeochemistry 2: 67–93

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Houghton RA (1991) Tropical deforestation and atmospheric carbon dioxide. Climatic Change 19: 99–118

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Houghton RA, Boone RD, Fruci JR, Hobbie JE, Melillo JM, Palm CA, Peterson BJ, Shaver GR & Woodwell GM (1987) The flux of carbon from terrestrial ecosystems to the atmosphere in 1980 due to changes in land use: geographic distribution of the global flux. Tellus 39: 122–139

    Google Scholar 

  • Houghton RA, Boone RD, Melillo JM, Palm CA, Woodwell GM, Myers N, Moore B III & Skole DL (1985) Net flux of carbon dioxide from tropical forests in 1980. Nature 316: 617–620

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Houghton RA, Hobbie JE & Melillo JM (1983) Changes in the carbon of terrestrial biota and soils between 1860 and 1980: a net release of CO2 to the atmosphere. Ecological Monographs 53: 235–262

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Houghton RA, Skole DL & Lefkowitz DS (1991) Changes in the landscape of Latin America between 1850 and 1985 II. Net release of CO2 to the atmosphere. Forest Ecology and Management 38: 173–199

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Johnson DW (1992) Effects of forest management on soil carbon storage. Water Air and Soil Pol. 64: 83–120

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Kononova MM (1961) Soil Organic Matter its Nature, its Role in Formation and in Soil Fertility. Pergamon Press Inc., NY

    Google Scholar 

  • Lamb JA, Peterson GA & Fenster CR (1985) Wheat fallow tillage systems' effect on a newly cultivated grassland soils' nitrogen budget. Soil Sci. Am. J. 49: 352–356

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Laws WD & Evans DD (1949) The effects of long-time cultivation on some physical and chemical properties of two rendzina soils. Soil Sci. Soc. Am. Proc. 14: 15–19

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Mann LK (1986) Changes in soil carbon storage after cultivation. Soil Sci. 142: 279–288

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Martel YA & Deschenes JM (1976) Les effects de la mise en culture et de la prairie prolongee sur le carbone, l'azote et la structure de quelques sols du Quebec. Can. J. Soil Sci. 56: 373–383

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Martel YA & Mackenzie AF (1980) Long term effects of cultivation and land use on soil quality in Quebec. Can J. Soil Sci. 60: 411–420

    Google Scholar 

  • Nelson DW & Sommers LE (1982) Total carbon, organic carbon, and organic matter. In: Page AL, Miller RH & Keeney DR (Eds) Methodsof Soil Analysis (pp 539–579). American Soc. of Agronomy, Wisconsin

    Google Scholar 

  • Post WM & Mann LK (1990) Changes in soil organic carbon and nitrogen as a result of cultivation. In: Bouwman AF (Eds) Soils and the Greenhouse Effect (pp 401–406). John Wiley & Sons Ltd., England

    Google Scholar 

  • Rhoton FE & Tyler DD (1990) Erosion-induced changes in the properties of a fragipan soil. Soil Sci. Am. J. 54: 223–228

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Rublin YV & Dolotov VA (1967) Effect of cultivation on the amounts and composition of humus in gray forest soils. Sov. Soil Sci. 1967: 733–738

    Google Scholar 

  • Schlesinger WH (1986) Changes in soil carbon storage and associated properties with disturbance and recovery. In: Trabalka JR & Reichle DE (Eds) The Changing Carbon Cycle. A Global Analysis (pp 194–220). Springer Verlag, NY

    Google Scholar 

  • Street J (1982) Changes of carbon inventories in live biomass and detritus as a result of the practice of shifting agriculture and the conversion of forest to pasture: case studies in Pure, New Guinea and Hawaii. In: Ahmad I & Jahi JM (Eds) Geography and the Third World (pp 249–258). Penerbit Universiti, Kebangsaan, Malaysia

    Google Scholar 

  • Tiessen H, Stewart JWB & Bettany JR (1982) Cultivation effects on the amounts and concentration of carbon, nitrogen, and phosphorous in grassland soils. Agronomy J. 74: 831—835

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Vitorello VA, Cerri CC, Andreux F, Feller C & Victoria RL (1989) Organic matter and natural carbon-13 distribution in forested and cultivated oxisols. Soil Sci. Am. J. 53: 773–778

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Vorney RP, Van Veen JA & Paul EA (1981) Organic C dynamics in grassland soils. 2. Model validation and simulation of the long-term effects of cultivation and rainfall erosion. Can. J. Soil Sci. 61: 211–224

    Google Scholar 

  • Yefimov VN & Lunina NF (1986) Change in the composition of organic matter in peat soils during 70 Years of cultivation. Soviet Soil Sci. 18: 41–49

    Google Scholar 

Download references

Author information

Authors and Affiliations

Authors

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Davidson, E.A., Ackerman, I.L. Changes in soil carbon inventories following cultivation of previously untilled soils. Biogeochemistry 20, 161–193 (1993). https://doi.org/10.1007/BF00000786

Download citation

  • Received:

  • Accepted:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/BF00000786

Key words

  • carbon cycle
  • land-use change
  • organic carbon
  • tillage