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Soil acidification enhanced soil carbon sequestration through increased mineral protection

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Background and aims

As a significant land carbon sink, highly acid subtropical forests in southern China continued to accumulate a significant amount of soil carbon under elevated acid deposition, yet the mechanism of how soil organic carbon (SOC) and its two components: particulate (POC) and mineral-associated (MAOC) organic carbon increased remain unclear. We aim to assess which mechanism and drivers dominated the accumulation of SOC and its two fractions under elevated acid deposition.


We conducted a 11-year field acid addition experiment to study how acid deposition affected the accumulation of SOC and its fractions. Lignin phenols and amino sugars were used as two tracers for plant- and microbe-derived carbon.


We found that both POC (0–20 cm) and MAOC (10–20 cm) were significantly increased by acid addition. Acid addition significantly reduced the contributions of fungal-, bacterial- or total microbial residue carbon to SOC but significantly increased the plant-derived soil carbon in both soil depths. The increase of lignin phenol and suppressed soil organic matter decomposition from soil microbes suggested that soil POC increased with acid addition. Soil acidification strongly enhanced MAOC accumulation through increased lignin and mineral protection by iron-aluminum oxides and cations.


Our results showed that increased mineral protection of plant-derived carbon was the dominant driver of the increased SOC sequestration under acid addition. This finding identified the dominant pathway for SOC accumulation in a highly acidic subtropical forest and provides new insights into understanding how plant-soil-mineral interact under increasing acid deposition in the region.

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All data generated or analysed during this study are included in this published article [and its supplementary information files].


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We thank Xiaoyin You and Xiaoping Pan for their help with soil mineral and carbon measurements in the laboratory. We also thank Chuanyin Xiang for his assistance in field sampling. This work was supported by the National Science Fund for Distinguished Young Scholars (41825020), the National Natural Science Foundation of China (42177151, 31901296) and Guangdong Basic and Applied Basic Research Foundation (2021A1515012147).

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Authors and Affiliations



Mengxiao Yu, Junhua Yan and Deqiang Zhang conceived and supervised the study. Mengxiao Yu, Jun Jiang and Nannan Cao collected samples and carried out the measurements. Mengxiao Yu wrote the original manuscript. Ying-Ping Wang, Qi Deng, Xuli Tang, and Junhua Yan provided very constructive suggestions.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Junhua Yan.

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The authors declare that they have no known competing financial interests or personal relationships that could have appeared to influence the work reported in this paper.

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Responsible Editor: Zucong Cai.

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Yu, M., Wang, YP., Deng, Q. et al. Soil acidification enhanced soil carbon sequestration through increased mineral protection. Plant Soil (2024).

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