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Accumulation of Carbon and Nitrogen in Residential Soils with Different Land-Use Histories

Abstract

Urban areas are growing in size and importance; however, we are only beginning to understand how the process of urbanization influences ecosystem dynamics. In particular, there have been few assessments of how the land-use history and age of residential soils influence carbon (C) and nitrogen (N) pools and fluxes, especially at depth. In this study, we used 1-m soil cores to evaluate soil profile characteristics and C and N pools in 32 residential home lawns that differed by previous land use and age, but had similar soil types. These were compared to soils from eight forested reference sites. Residential soils had significantly higher C and N densities than nearby forested soils of similar types (6.95 vs. 5.44 kg C/m2 and 552 vs. 403 g N/m2, P < 0.05). Results from our chronosequence suggest that soils at residential sites that were previously in agriculture have the potential to accumulate C (0.082 kg C/m2/y) and N (8.3 g N/m2/y) rapidly after residential development. Rates of N accumulation at these sites were similar in magnitude to estimated fertilizer N inputs, confirming a high capacity for N retention. Residential sites that were forested prior to development had higher C and N densities than present-day forests, but our chronosequence did not reveal a significant pattern of increasing C and N density over time in previously forested sites. These data suggest that soils in residential areas on former agricultural land have a significant capacity to sequester C and N. Given the large area of these soils, they are undoubtedly significant in regional C and N balances.

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Acknowledgements

This research was supported by the National Science Foundation Ecosystem Studies and LTER programs (Grant numbers DEB-0444919 and DEB-9714835). The authors thank Dan Dillon, David Lewis, Lisa Martel, Giovanna McClenachan, Ellen Schmidt, Robin Schmidt, Kirsten Schwarz and Ian Yesilonis for help with field sampling, laboratory analysis, advice and project planning. The authors extend a special thanks to the homeowners who provided access to their properties.

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Correspondence to Steve M. Raciti.

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Author Contributions

SMR, PMG, JCJ, RVP, and TJF conceived of the study design and performed the research. STAP and MLC contributed HERCULES (High Ecological Resolution Classification of Urban Landscapes and Environmental Systems) land cover information that was central to the study design. SMR, PMG, and TJF wrote the paper, with scientific and editorial review by JCJ, RVP, STAP, and MLC.

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Raciti, S.M., Groffman, P.M., Jenkins, J.C. et al. Accumulation of Carbon and Nitrogen in Residential Soils with Different Land-Use Histories. Ecosystems 14, 287–297 (2011). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10021-010-9409-3

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s10021-010-9409-3

Key words

  • carbon
  • nitrogen
  • soil
  • residential
  • urban
  • lawn
  • turfgrass
  • forest
  • development
  • land use