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Changes from pasture to a native tree plantation affect soil organic matter in a tropical soil, Panamá

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Background and aims

We examined changes in soil organic matter arising from conversion of a 45-year old pasture to a 10 yr. old native tree plantation in Panamá, to evaluate the effect of monoculture and mixtures.


We intensively sampled the soil 0–10 cm depth in the pasture in 2001 and in 22 plantation plots in 2011, ranging from 5 monocultures to 3- and 6-species treatments; samples were also taken from an undisturbed forest site. Soil analyses included organic carbon (SOC) and δ13C.


Conversion of the pasture to tree plantation resulted in an overall loss of SOC of 0.6 kg m−2 (18%) in the top 10 cm, but neither tree species nor diversity had a significant effect. End-member δ13C values suggested that the contribution of C3 plants to SOC was increased from 26% in the pasture to 55% after 10 years of plantation and SOC turnover times were calculated to be 21–36 yr.


The magnitude of the loss in soil SOC is smaller than the increases in tree biomass (~3 kg C m−2) and litter (~0.3 kg C m−2) in the plantation, but still a significant part of the ecosystem C balance.

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The Sardinilla plantation was established with the help of the Ministère de la Recherche, de la Science et de la Technologie du Québec. The continuous support from the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute was invaluable and José Monteza has carefully tended the tree plantation. The authors gratefully acknowledge the financial support of the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada and the FQRNT-supported Centre for Climate and Global Change Research. Dr. Tanya Handa of Université du Québec à Montréal kindly provided samples of the plantation tree leaves and roots.

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Correspondence to Tim R. Moore.

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Responsible Editor: Zucong Cai

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Moore, T.R., Abraham, M., Kalácska, M. et al. Changes from pasture to a native tree plantation affect soil organic matter in a tropical soil, Panamá. Plant Soil 425, 133–143 (2018).

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