, Volume 112, Issue 1–3, pp 457–476 | Cite as

Comparison of soil organic matter dynamics at five temperate deciduous forests with physical fractionation and radiocarbon measurements

  • Karis J. McFarlane
  • Margaret S. Torn
  • Paul J. Hanson
  • Rachel C. Porras
  • Christopher W. Swanston
  • Mac A. CallahamJr.
  • Thomas P. Guilderson


Forest soils represent a significant pool for carbon sequestration and storage, but the factors controlling soil carbon cycling are not well constrained. We compared soil carbon dynamics at five broadleaf forests in the Eastern US that vary in climate, soil type, and soil ecology: two sites at the University of Michigan Biological Station (MI-Coarse, sandy; MI-Fine, loamy); Bartlett Experimental Forest (NH-BF); Harvard Forest (MA-HF); and Baskett Wildlife Recreation and Education Area (MO-OZ). We quantified soil carbon stocks and measured bulk soil radiocarbon to at least 60 cm depth. We determined surface (0–15 cm) soil carbon distribution and turnover times in free light (unprotected), occluded light (intra-aggregate), and dense (mineral-associated) soil fractions. Total soil carbon stocks ranged from 55 ± 4 to 229 ± 42 Mg C ha−1 and were lowest at MI-Coarse and MO-OZ and highest at MI-Fine and NH-BF. Differences in climate only partly explained differences in soil organic matter 14C and mean turnover times, which were 75–260 year for free-light fractions, 70–625 year for occluded-light fractions, and 90–480 year for dense fractions. Turnover times were shortest at the warmest site, but longest at the northeastern sites (NH-BF and MA-HF), rather than the coldest sites (MI-Coarse and MI-Fine). Soil texture, mineralogy, drainage, and macrofaunal activity may be at least as important as climate in determining soil carbon dynamics in temperate broadleaf forests.


14C Carbon cycle Soil carbon Soil fractionation Soil fauna Terrestrial carbon cycle 



Soil organic matter


Harvard Forest


Bartlett Forest


University of Michigan Biological Station


Missouri Ozark


Free light fraction


Occluded light fraction


Dense fraction


Mobilized fraction


Net ecosystem exchange of carbon


Dissolved organic matter



Don Todd helped collect and process samples. Nick Lee, Karissa N. Murray, and Alex ander S. Wang, helped with density fractionation. AmeriFlux site mentors Bob Evans, Dave Hollinger, Kevin Hosman, Jim le Moine, Bill Munger, and Steve Pallardy provided necessary help with locating plots, sampling, and providing site soil and meteorological information. Kevin Hosman and Jim le Moine provided additional feedback and field assistance. Dave Hollinger, Jim le Moine, and Bill Munger provided comments for this manuscript. David Combs, Greta Langhenry and Evelyn Wenk assisted with soil macro invertebrate surveys. Two anonymous reviewers provided helpful comments on the manuscript. This work was supported by the Director, Office of Science, Office of Biological and Environmental Research, Climate and Environmental Science Division, of the U.S. Department of Energy under Contract No. DE-AC02-05CH11231 to Berkeley Lab and under Contract DE-AC52-07NA27344 to Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and to Oak Ridge National Laboratory, managed by UT-Battelle for DOE, under contract DE-AC05-00OR22725. Climatological data for sites in Michigan were provided by the University of Michigan Biological Station, supported by the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science (BER) through the Midwestern 320 Regional Center of the National Institute for Global Environmental Change under Cooperative Agreements No. DE-FC03-90ER610100, and the Midwestern Regional Center of the National Institute for Climatic Change Research at Michigan Technological University, under Award No. DE-FC02-06ER64158.


  1. Alban DH, Berry EC (1994) Effects of earthworm invasion on morphology, carbon, and nitrogen of a forest soil. Appl Soil Ecol 1:243–249CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Alvarez R, Lavado RS (1998) Climate, organic matter and clay content relationships in the Pampa and Chaco soils, Argentina. Geoderma 83:127–141CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Amundson R (2001) The carbon budget in soils. Annu Rev Earth Planet Sci 29:535–562CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Baldock JA, Skjemstad JO (2000) Role of the soil matrix and minerals in protecting natural organic materials against biological attack. Org Geochem 31:697–710CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Barford CC, Wofsy SC, Goulden ML, Munger JW, Pyle EW, Urbanski SP, Hutyra L, Saleska SR, Fitzjarrald D, Moore K (2001) Factors controlling long- and short-term sequestration of atmospheric CO2 in a mid-latitude forest. Science 294:1688–1691CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Belden AC, Pallardy SG (2009) Successional trends and apparent Acer saccharum regeneration failure in an oak-hickory forest in central Missouri. Plant Ecol 204:305–322CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Bohlen PJ, Pelletier DM, Groffman PM, Fahey TJ, Fisk MC (2004) Influence of earthworm invasion on redistribution and retention of soil carbon and nitrogen in northern temperate forests. Ecosystems 7:13–27CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Bossuyt H, Six J, Hendrix PF (2004) Rapid incorporation of carbon from fresh residues into newly formed stable microaggregates within earthworm casts. Eur J Soil Sci 55:393–399CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Burt R, Reinsch TG, Miller WP (1993) A micro-pipette method for water dispersible clay. Commun Soil Sci Plant Anal 24:2531–2544CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Callaham MA Jr, Hendrix PF (1997) Relative abundance and seasonal activity of earthworms (Lumbricidae and Megascolecidae) as determined by hand-sorting and formalin extraction in forest soils on the southern Appalachian Piedmont. Soil Biol Biochem 29:317–321CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Coleman DC, Crossley DA, Hendrix PF (2004) Fundamentals of soil ecology, 2nd edn. Elsevier Academic Press, San DiegoGoogle Scholar
  12. Cox PM, Betts RA, Jones CD, Spall SA, Totterdell IJ (2000) Acceleration of global warming due to carbon-cycle feedbacks in a coupled climate model. Nature 408:184–187CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Crow SE, Swanston CW, Lajtha K, Brooks JR, Keirstead H (2007) Density fractionation of forest soils: methodological questions and interpretation of incubation results and turnover time in an ecosystem context. Biogeochemistry 85:69–90CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Davidson EA, Savage K, Bolstad P, Clark DA, Curtis PS, Ellsworth DS, Hanson PJ, Law BE, Luo Y, Pregitzer KS, Randolph JC, Zak D (2002) Belowground carbon allocation in forests estimated from litterfall and IRGA-based soil respiration measurements. Ag For Meteor 113:39–51CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. De Deyn GB, Cornelissen JHC, Bardgett RD (2008) Plant functional traits and soil carbon sequestration in contrasting biomes. Ecol Lett 11:516–531CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Fissore C, Giardina CP, Kolka RK, Trettin CC, King GM, Jurgensen MF, Barton CD, McDowell SD (2008) Temperature and vegetation effects on soil organic carbon quality along a forested mean anual temperature gradient in North America. Glob Change Biol 14:193–205Google Scholar
  17. Fissore C, Giardina CP, Swanston CW, King GM, Kolka RK (2009) Variable temperature sensitivity of soil organic carbon in North American forests. Global Change Biol 15:2295–2310CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Friedlingstein P, Bopp L, Ciais P, Dufresne J, Louis, Fairhead L, LeTreut H, Monfray P, Orr J (2001) Positive feedback between future climate change and the carbon cycle. Geophys Res Lett 28:1543–1546CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Gaudinski JB, Trumbore SE (2003) Soil carbon turnover. In: Hanson PJ, Wullschleger SD (eds) North american temperate deciduous forest responses to changing precipitation regimes. Ecological studies, vol 166. Springer, New York, pp 190–209CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Gaudinski JB, Trumbore SE, Davidson EA, Zheng S (2000) Soil carbon cycling in a temperate forest: radiocarbon-based estimates of residence times, sequestration rates and partitioning fluxes. Biogeochemistry 51:33–69CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Gaudinski JB, Torn MS, Riley WJ, Dawson TE, Joslin JD, Majdi H (2010) Measuring and modeling the spectrum of fine-root turnover times in three forests using isotopes, minirhizotrons, and the Radix model. Global Biogeochem Cycles 24:GB3029. doi: 10.1029/2009GB003649 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Golchin A, Oades JM, Skjemstad JO, Clarke P (1994) Study of free and occluded particulate organic matter in soils by solid state 13C CP/MAS NMR spectroscopy and scanning electron microscopy. Aust J Soil Res 32:285–309CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Graven HD, Guilderson TP, Keeling RF (2012) Observations of radiocarbon in CO2 at La Jolla, California, USA 1997–2007: analysis of the long-term trend. J Geophys Res 117:D02302. doi: 10.1029/2011jd016533 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Guo Y, Gong P, Amundson R, Yu Q (2006) Analysis of factors controlling soil carbon in the conterminous United States. Soil Sci Soc Am J 70:601–612CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Hakkenberg R, Churkina G, Rodeghiero M, Börner A, Steinhof A, Cescatti A (2008) Temperature sensitivity of the turnover times of soil organic matter in forests. Ecol Appl 18:119–131CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Heckman K, Welty-Bernard A, Rasmussen C, Schwartz E (2009) Geologic controls of soil carbon cycling and microbial dynamics in temperate conifer forests. Chem Geol 267:12–23CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Heimann M, Reichstein M (2008) Terrestrial ecosystem carbon dynamics and climate feedbacks. Nature 451:289–292CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Homann P, Kapchinske J, Boyce A (2007) Relations of mineral-soil C and N to climate and texture: regional differences within the conterminous USA. Biogeochemistry 85:303–316CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Hua Q, Barbetti M (2004) Review of troposheric bomb 14C data for carbon cycle modeling and age calibration purposes. Radiocarbon 46:1273–1298Google Scholar
  30. Jobbágy EG, Jackson RB (2000) The vertical distribution of soil organic carbon and its relation to climate and vegetation. Ecol Appl 10:423–436CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Jones C, McConnell C, Coleman K, Cox P, Falloon P, Jenkinson D, Powlson D (2005) Global climate change and soil carbon stocks; predictions from two contrasting models for the turnover of organic carbon in soil. Glob Change Biol 11:154–166CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Kleber M, Mikutta R, Torn MS, Jahn R (2005) Poorly crystalline mineral phases protect organic matter in subsoil horizons. Eur J Soil Sci 56:717–725Google Scholar
  33. Lehr M, Palm L, Field J, Ager D, McKenna O, Gabelman K, DeFour J, Berhrman M (2009) Earthworm abundance among different soil and vegeation types at colonial point. University of Michigan, Undergraduate ReportGoogle Scholar
  34. Leirós MC, Trasar-Cepeda C, Seoane S, Gil-Sotres F (1999) Dependence of mineralization of soil organic matter on temperature and moisture. Soil Biol Biochem 31:327–335CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Levin I, Kromer B (2004) The tropospheric 14CO2 level in mid-latitudes of the northern hemisphere (1959–2003. Radiocarbon 46:1261–1272Google Scholar
  36. Loeppert R, Suarez R (1996) Carbonate and gypsum. In: Sparks DL (ed) Methods of soil analysis. Part 3. Chemical methods. Soil Science Society of America, Madison, pp 437–474Google Scholar
  37. Lützow Mv, Kögel-Knaber I, Erkschmitt K, Matzner E, Guggenberger G, Marschner B, Flessa H (2006) Stabilization of organic matter in temperate soils: mechanisms and their relevance under different soil conditions—a review. Eur J Soil Sci 57:426–445CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Marín-Spiotta E, Swanston CW, Torn MS, Silver WL, Burton SD (2008) Chemical and mineral control of soil carbon turnover in abandoned tropical pastures. Geoderma 143:49–62CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Marín-Spiotta E, Silver WL, Swanston CW, Ostertag R (2009) Soil organic matter dynamics during 80 years of reforestation of tropical pastures. Global Change Biol 15:1584–1597CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Masiello CA, Chadwick OA, Southon J, Torn, Harden JW (2004) Weathering controls on mechanisms of carbon storage in grassland soils. Global Biogeochem Cycles 18:GB4023CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. McFarlane KJ, Schoenholtz SH, Powers RF, Perakis SS (2010) Soil organic matter stability in intensively managed ponderosa pine stands in California. Soil Sci Soc Am J 73:1020–1032CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Mikutta R, Kleber M, Torn MS, Jahn R (2006) Stabilization of soil organic matter: association with minerals or chemical recalcitrance? Biogeochemistry 77:25–56CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Miller WP, Miller DM (1987) A micropipette method for soil mechanical analysis. Commun Soil Sci Plant Anal 18:1–15CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Nordström S, Rundgren S (1974) Environmental factors and lumbricid associations in southern Sweden. Pedobiologia 14:1–27Google Scholar
  45. Oades JM (1988) The retention of organic matter in soils. Biogeochemistry 5:35–70CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Pallardy SG, Nigh TA, Garrett HE (1988) Changes in forest composition in central Missouri: 1968–1982. Amer Midl Nat 120:380–390CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Parton WJ, Hanson PJ, Swanston C, Torn M, Trumbore SE, Riley W, Kelly R (2010) ForCent model development and testing using the enriched background isotope study experiment. J Geophys Res 115:G04001CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Paul E (1984) Dynamics of organic matter in soils. Plant Soil 76:275–285CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Paul EA, Follett RF, Leavitt SW, Halvorson A, Peterson GA, Lyon DJ (1997) Radiocarbon dating for determination of soil organic matter pool sizes and dynamics. Soil Sci Soc Am J 61:1058–1067CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Posada J, Schuur E (2011) Relationships among precipitation regime, nutrient availability, and carbon turnover in tropical rain forests. Oecologia 69:783–795Google Scholar
  51. Post WM, Emanuel WR, Zinke PJ, Stagenberger AG (1982) Soil carbon pools and world life zones. Nature 298:156–159CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Raich JW, Nadelhoffer KJ (1989) Belowground carbon allocation in forest ecosystems: global trends. Ecology 70:1346–1354CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Rasmussen CG, Torn MS, Southard RJ (2005) Mineral assemblage and aggregates control carbon dynamics in a California conifer forest. Soil Sci Soc Am J 69:1711–1721CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Rasmussen CG, Southard RJ, Horwath WR (2006) Mineral control of organic carbon mineralization in a range of temperate conifer forest soils. Global Change Biol 12:834–847CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Rodhe H (1992) Modeling biogeochemical cycles. In: Butcher SS, Charlson RJ, Orians GH, Wolfe GV (eds) Global biogeochemical cycles. Academic Press, San Diego, pp 55–72CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. Sabine CL, Heiman M, Artaxo P, Bakker DCE, Chen-Tung AC, Field CB, Gruber N, LeQuéré C, Prinn RG, Richey JE, Romero Lankao P, Sathaye JA, Valentini R (2004) Current status and past trends of the global carbon cycle. In: Field CB, Raupach MR (eds) The global carbon cycle: integrating humans, climate, and the natural world. Island Press, Washington, DC, pp 17–43Google Scholar
  57. Schimel DS, Braswell BH, Holland EA, McKeown R, Ojima DS, Painter TH, Parton WJ, Townsend AR (1994) Climatic, edaphic, and biotic controls over storage and turnover of carbon in soils. Global Biogeochem Cycles 8:279–293CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. Schlesinger WH, Andrews JA (2000) Soil respiration and the global carbon cycle. Biogeochemistry 48:7–20CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  59. Schmidt MWI, Torn MS, Abiven S, Dittmar T, Guggenberger G, Janssens IA, Kleber M, Kogel-Knabner I, Lehmann J, Manning DAC, Nannipieri P, Rasse DP, Weiner S, Trumbore SE (2011) Persistence of soil organic matter as an ecosystem property. Nature 478:49–56CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  60. Schuur EA, Chadwick OA, Matson PA (2001) Carbon cycling and soil carbon storage in mesic to wet Hawaiian montane forests. Ecology 82:3182–3196CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  61. Silver WL, Neff J, McGroddy M, Veldkamp E, Keller M, Cosme R (2000) Effects of soil texture on belowground carbon and nutrient storage in a lowland Amazonian forest ecosystem. Ecosystems 3:193–209CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  62. Six J, Conant RT, Paul EA, Paustian K (2002) Stabilization mechanisms of soil organic matter: implications for C-saturation of soils. Plant Soil 241:155–176CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  63. Snyder BA, Boots B, Hendrix PF (2009) Competition between invasive earthworms (Amynthas corticis, Megascolecidae) and native North American millipedes (Pseudopolydesmus erasus, Polydesmidae): effects on carbon cycling and soil structure. Soil Biol Biochem 41:1442–1449CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  64. Soil Survey Staff (2009) National Resources Conservation Service, United States Department of Agriculture. 2009. Official Soil Series Descriptions [Online]. Available at: Accessed 13 Dec 2010
  65. Sollins P, Kramer M, Swanston C, Lajtha K, Filley T, Aufdenkampe A, Wagai R, Bowden R (2009) Sequential density fractionation across soils of contrasting mineralogy: evidence for both microbial- and mineral-controlled soil organic matter stabilization. Biogeochemistry 96:209–231CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  66. Spielvogel S, Prietzel J, Kögel-Knabner I (2008) Soil organic matter stabilization in acidic forest soils is preferential and soil type-specific. Eur J Soil Sci 59:674–692CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  67. Stuiver M, Polach HA (1977) Reporting of C-14 data. Radiocarbon 19:355–363Google Scholar
  68. Stuiver M, Reimer PJ, Braziunas TF (1998) High-precision radiocarbon age calibration for terrestrial and marine samples. Radiocarbon 403:1127–1151Google Scholar
  69. Swanston CW, Torn MS, Hanson PJ, Southon JR, Garten CT, Hanlon EM, Ganio L (2005) Initial characterization of processes of soil carbon stabilization using forest standlevel radiocarbon enrichment. Geoderma 128:52–62CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  70. Swift MJ, Heal OW, Anderson JM (1979) Decomposition in terrestrial ecosystems. University of California Press, BerkeleyGoogle Scholar
  71. Telles E, de Camargo PB, Martinelli LA, Trumbore SE, da Costa ES, Santos J, Higuchi N, Oliveira RC Jr (2003) Influence of soil texture on carbon dynamics and storage potential in tropical forest soils of Amazonia. Global Biogeochem Cycles 17:1040CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  72. Thomas GW (1996) Soil pH and soil acidity. In: Sparks DL (ed) Methods of soil analysis. Part 3. Chemical methods. SSSA, Madison, pp 475–490Google Scholar
  73. Torn MS, Trumbore SE, Chadwick OA, Vitousek PM, Hendricks DM (1997) Mineral control of soil organic carbon storage and turnover. Nature 389:170–173CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  74. Torn MS, Lapenis AG, Timofeev A, Fischer ML, Babikov BV, Harden JW (2002) Organic carbon and carbon isotopes in modern and 100-year-old-soil archives of the Russian steppe. Global Change Biol 8:941–953CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  75. Torn MS, Vitousek PM, Trumbore SE (2005) The influence of nutrient availability on soil organic matter turnover estimated by incubations and radiocarbon modelling. Ecosystems 8:352–372CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  76. Torn MS, Swanston CW, Castanha C, Trumbore SE (2009) Storage and tunover of organic matter in soil. In: Senesi N, Xing B, Huang PM (eds) Biophysico-chemical processes involving natural nonliving organic matter in environmental systems. Wiley, Hoboken, pp 219–272CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  77. Townsend AR, Vitousek PM (1995) Soil organic matter dynamics along gradients in temperature and land use on the island of Hawaii. Ecology 76:721–723CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  78. Trumbore SE (1993) Comparison of carbon dynamics in tropical and temperate soils using radiocarbon measurements. Global Biogeochem Cycles 7:275–290CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  79. Trumbore S (2000) Age of soil organic matter and soil respiration: radiocarbon constraints on belowground C dynamics. Ecol App 10:399–411CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  80. Trumbore SE, Chadwick OA, Amundson R (1996) Rapid exchange between soil carbon and atmospheric carbon dioxide driven by temperature change. Science 272:393–396CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  81. Urbanski S, Barford C, Wofsy S, Kucharik C, Pyle E, Budney J, Fitzjarrald D, Czikowsky M, Munger JW (2007) Factors controlling CO2 exchange at harvard forest on hourly to annual time scales. J Geophys Res 112:G02020. doi: 10.1029/2006JG000293 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  82. US Climate Change Science Program and the Subcommittee on Global Change Research (2007) The First State of the Carbon Cycle Report (SOCCR): The North American carbon budget and implications for the global carbon cycle. In: King AW, Dilling L, Zimmerman GP, Fairman DM, Houghton RA, Marland G, Rose AZ, and Wilbanks TJ (eds) A report by the U.S. Climate Change Science Program and the Subcommittee on Global Change Research. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, National Climatic Data Center, AshevilleGoogle Scholar
  83. US Salinity Laboratory Staff (1954) Alkaline-earth carbonates by gravimetric loss of carbon dioxide. In: Richards LA (ed) Diagnosis and improvement of saline and alkali soils. USDA Agric. Handb. 60. U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, D.C, p 105Google Scholar
  84. Vogel JS, Southon JR, Nelson DE, Brown TA (1984) Performance of catalytically condensed carbon for use in accelerator mass-spectrometry. Nucl Instrum Methods Phys Res B5:289–293Google Scholar
  85. Wagai R, Mayer LM, Kitayama K (2009) Nature of the occluded‚ low-density fraction in soil organic matter studies: a critical review. Soil Science Plant Nutrition 55:13–25CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • Karis J. McFarlane
    • 1
  • Margaret S. Torn
    • 2
  • Paul J. Hanson
    • 3
  • Rachel C. Porras
    • 2
  • Christopher W. Swanston
    • 4
  • Mac A. CallahamJr.
    • 5
  • Thomas P. Guilderson
    • 1
  1. 1.Center for Accelerator Mass SpectrometryLawrence Livermore National LaboratoryLivermoreUSA
  2. 2.Earth Sciences DivisionLawrence Berkeley National LaboratoryBerkeleyUSA
  3. 3.Environmental Sciences DivisionOak Ridge National LaboratoryOak RidgeUSA
  4. 4.U.S.D.A. Forest ServiceNorthern Research StationHoughtonUSA
  5. 5.U.S.D.A. Forest ServiceSouthern Research StationAthensUSA

Personalised recommendations