Ecological Research

, Volume 22, Issue 4, pp 641–648 | Cite as

Effect of land use conversion on soil organic carbon sequestration in the loess hilly area, loess plateau of China

  • Liding ChenEmail author
  • Jie Gong
  • Bojie Fu
  • Zhilin Huang
  • Yilong Huang
  • Lide Gui
Original Article


Changes in land use may alter land cover, which results in carbon stock changes in biomass as well as in the soil. In China’s loess plateau, vegetation restoration has been conducted since 1950s to control soil erosion and improve the ecosystem, with significant investment of money and manpower. Despite these efforts, soil erosion has still been severe. To reduce soil erosion and improve land quality, China initiated another state-funded project, Grain-for-Green, in 1999 in the loess plateau. However, it is not clear how effective this newly initiated project will be. In this study, we evaluated the effect of land-use conversion on soil organic carbon (SOC) and the potential effect of the current project on SOC sequestration in the Anjiapo catchment area of the loess hilly area of the loess plateau in China. This evaluation is based on SOC measurements in cropland versus in other converted land use types. We found that SOC sequestration mainly occurred in the surface soil after land use conversion took place. Land use conversion from cropland to shrubland or wild grassland (i.e. undisturbed land) was better for SOC sequestration than tree plantation in the semi-arid loess hilly area. By using the land use change in the study area as a scenario, the potential contribution of land use change on SOC sequestration due to the Grain-for-Green project was estimated. It was found that this project in the loess plateau of China would be helpful for SOC sequestration if successfully implemented.


Land use conversion Soil organic carbon (SOC) concentration Soil organic carbon density (SOCD) Soil organic carbon sequestration Grain-for-Green project Loess hilly area  China 



Financial support for this research came from the Natural Science Foundation of China (90502007; 40321101) and the National Advanced Project of the 10th 5-year Plan of China (2004BA606A–03). The authors would like to thank the Institute of Soil and Water Conservation of the Chinese Academy of Sciences for conducting laboratory analysis, and the Dingxi Institute of Soil and Water Conservation for fieldwork support and data collection. Sincere thanks are given to Prof. Yang X.J., Department of Geography of Florida State University for his assistance with the English text. We would also like to express our thanks to the three anonymous reviewers for their valuable comments.


  1. Aweto AO (1981) Secondary succession and soil fertility restoration in south-western Nigeria. II. Soil fertility restoration. J Ecol 69:609–614CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Brown S, Lugo AE (1990) Effects of forest clearing and succession on the carbon and nitrogen concentration of soils in Puerto Rico and US Virgin Islands. Plant Soil 124:53–64CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Chang QR, An SS, Liu J, Wang B, Wei YS (1999) Study on benefits of recovering vegetation to prevent land deterioration on loess plateau (Chinese with English abstract). J Soil Erosion Soil Water Conserv 5(4):6–9Google Scholar
  4. Chen XW, Li BL (2003) Change in soil carbon and nutrient storage after human disturbance of a primary Korean pine forest in Northeast China. For Ecol Manage 186:197–206CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Chen LD, Wang J, Fu BJ, Qiu Y (2001) Land use change in a small catchment of northern Loess Plateau, China. Agric Ecosyst Environ 86:163–172CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Chen QB, Wang KQ, Qi S, Sun LD (2003) Soil and water erosion in its relation to slope field productivity in hilly gully areas of the Loess Plateau (Chinese with English abstract). Aata Ecol Sin 23(8):1463–1469Google Scholar
  7. Chinese Editorial Committee of Soil Analysis (1996) Soil physical and chemical analysis and description of soil profile (in Chinese). China State Standards Press, BeijingGoogle Scholar
  8. Compton JE, Boone RD, Motzkin G, Foster DR (1998) Soil carbon and nitrogen in a pine–oak sand plain in central Massachusetts: role of vegetation and land-use history. Oecologia 116:536–542CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Cui XY, Wang YF, Niu HS, Wu J, Wang SP, Schnug E, Rogasik J, Fleckenstein J, Tang YH (2005) Effect of long-term grazing on soil organic carbon concentration in semiarid steppes in Inner Mongolia. Ecol Res 20:519–527CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Degryze S, Six J, Paustian K, Morris S, Paul EA, Merckx R (2004) Soil organic carbon pool changes following land-use conversion. Glob Change Biol 10:1120–1132CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Evrendilek F, Celik I, Kilic S (2004) Changes in soil organic carbon and other physical soil properties along adjacent Mediterranean forest, grassland, and croplands in Turkey. J Arid Environ 59:743–752CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Gong J, Chen LD, Fu BJ, Huang YL, Huang ZL, Peng HJ (2006) Effect of land use on soil nutrients in the loess hilly area of the loess plateau, China. Land Degrad Dev (in press), DOI: 10.1002/ldr.701Google Scholar
  13. Groenendijk FM, Condron LM, Rijkse WC (2002) Effect of afforestation on organic carbon, nitrogen, and sulfur concentration in New Zealand hill country soils. Geoderma 108:91–100CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Janzen HH (2004) Carbon cycling in earth systems—a soil science perspective. Agric Ecosyst Environ 104:399–417CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Jia SW, He XB, Chen YM (2004) Effect of land abandonment on soil organic carbon sequestration in loess hilly areas (Chinese with English abstract). J Soil Water Conserv 18(3):78–80Google Scholar
  16. Johnson CM, Vieira ICG, Zarin DJ, Frizano J, Johnson AH (2001) Carbon and nutrient storage in primary and secondary forests in eastern Amazonia. For Ecol Manage 147:245–252CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Lal R (2004a) Soil carbon sequestration to mitigate climate change. Geoderma 123:1–22CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Lal R (2004b) Soil carbon sequestration impacts on global climate change and food security. Science 304:1623–1627CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Li ZP, Wang XJ (1998) Simulation of soil organic carbon dynamic after changing land use pattern in hilly red soil red region (Chinese with English abstract). Chin J Appl Ecol 9:365–370Google Scholar
  20. Li XL, Tian JY, Zhang CE (1992) A study on effects of different types of forest on the loess plateau on physical properties of soil (Chinese with English abstract). Sci Silvae Sin 28(2):98–106Google Scholar
  21. Li FM, Song QH, Jjemba PK, Shi YC (2004) Dynamics of soil microbial biomass C and soil fertility in cropland mulched with plastic film in a semiarid agro-ecosystem. Soil Biol Biochem 36:1893–1902CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Liu MY, An SS, Chang QR (2005) Features of soil organic carbon under different land use in mountain area of southern Ningxia (Chinese with English abstract). Res Soil Water Conserv 12(3):47–49Google Scholar
  23. Manna MC, Swarup A, Wanjari RH, Ravankar HN, Mishra B, Saha MN, Singh YV, Sahi DK, Sarap PA (2005) Long-term effect of fertilizer and manure application on soil organic carbon storage, soil quality and yield sustainability under sub-humid and semi-arid tropical India. Field Crops Res 93:264–280CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Messing I, Chen LD, Hessel R (2003) Soil conditions in a small catchment on the Loess Plateau in China. Catena 54(1–2):45–58CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Murty DM, Kirschbaum UF, Mcmurtrie RR, Mcgilvray H (2002) Does conversion of forest to agricultural land change soil carbon and nitrogen? A review of the literatures. Glob Change Biol 8:105–123CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Nilsson S, Schopfhauser W, Hoen HF, Solberg B (1995) The carbon-sequestration potential of a global afforestation program. Clim Change 30:267–293CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Olson KR, Lang JM, Ebelhar SA (2005) Soil organic carbon changes after 12 years of no-tillage and tillage of Grantsburg soils in southern Illinois. Soil Tillage Res 81:217–225CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Pan GX, Li LQ, Wu LS, Zhang XH (2003) Storage and sequestration potential of topsoil organic carbon in China’s paddy soils. Glob Change Biol 10:79–92CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Paul KI, Polglase PJ, Nyakuengama JG (2002) Change in soil carbon following afforestation. For Ecol Manage 168:241–257CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Paul KI, Polglase PJ, Richards GP (2003) Predicted change in soil carbon following afforestation or reforestation, and analysis of controlling factors by linking a C accounting model (CAMFor) to models of forest growth (3PG), litter decomposition (GENDEC) and soil C turnover (RothC). For Ecol Manage 177:485–501CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Post WM, Kwon KC (2000) Soil carbon sequestration and land-use change: processes and potential. Glob Change Biol 6:317–327CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Sakai RK, Fitzjarrald DR, Moraesw OLL, Staebler RM, Acevedo O, Czikowsky MJ, Dasilva R, Brait E, Miranda V (2004) Land-use change effects on local energy, water, and carbon balances in an Amazonian agricultural field. Glob Change Biol 10:895–907CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. San José JJ, Montes RA (2001) Management effects on carbon stocks and fluxes across the Orinoco savannas. For Ecol Manage 150:293–311CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Scott NA, Tate KR, Giltrap DJ, Smith CT, Wilde RH, Newsome PFJ, Davis MR (2002) Monitoring land-use change effects on soil carbon in New Zealand: quantifying baseline soil carbon stocks. Environ Pollut 116:167–186CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Trouve C, Disnar JR, Mariotti A (1996) Changes in the amount and distribution of neutral monosaccharides of savannah soils after plantation of Pinus and Eucalyptus in the Congo. Eur J Soil Sci 47:51–59CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Wang J, Fu B, Qiu Y, Chen LD (2001) Soil Nutrients in relation to land uses and landscape position in the semi-arid small catchment on the Loess Plateau in China. J Arid Environ 48:537–550CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Wu HB, Guo ZT, Peng CH (2003) Land use induced changes of organic carbon storage in soils of China. Glob Change Biol 9:305–315CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Wu JG, Zhang XQ, Xu DY (2004) The mineralization of soil organic carbon under different land uses in the Liupan mountain forest zone (Chinese with English abstract). Acta Phytoecol Sin 28(4):530–538Google Scholar
  39. Xu Y, Tian JL (2004) The evaluating method of eco-environment restoration pattern: a case study of the loess hilly-gully region (Chinese with English abstract). Acta Geogr Sin 59:621–628Google Scholar
  40. Xu XL, Zhang KL, Xu XL, Peng WY (2003) Spatial distribution and estimating of soil organic carbon on Loess Plateau (Chinese with English abstract). J Soil Water Conserv 17(3):13–15Google Scholar
  41. Zak DR, Grigal DF, Gleeson S, Tilman D (1990) Carbon and nitrogen cycling during old-field succession: constraints on plant and microbial biomass. Biogeochemistry 11:111–129CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Zhang F (1991) Character of ecological position and the coping disposition of plant (Chinese with English abstract). Acta Conserv Soliet Aquae Sin 5(2):46–51Google Scholar
  43. Zhang MK, He ZL (2004) Long-term changes in organic carbon and nutrients of an Ultisol under rice cropping in southeast China. Geoderma 118:167–179CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Zhang XQ, Xu DY (2003) Potential carbon sequestration in China’s forests. Environ Sci Policy 6:421–432CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Zhao SL, Li FM, Wang J (1995a) Discussion on development of water-harvested agriculture in semi-arid region Northwest China (Chinese with English abstract). Acta Bot Boreali-Occident Sin 15(8):9–12Google Scholar
  46. Zhao SL, Wang J, Li FM (1995b) A study on the limitation of agriculture development by conserving soil and water in semi-arid regions of Loess Plateau (Chinese with English abstract). Acta Bot Boreali-Occident Sin 15(8):13–18Google Scholar

Copyright information

© The Ecological Society of Japan 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  • Liding Chen
    • 1
    Email author
  • Jie Gong
    • 1
  • Bojie Fu
    • 1
  • Zhilin Huang
    • 1
  • Yilong Huang
    • 1
  • Lide Gui
    • 2
  1. 1.State Key Laboratory of Urban and Regional Ecology, Research Center for Eco-Environmental SciencesChinese Academy of SciencesBeijingPeople’s Republic of China
  2. 2.Dingxi Institute of Soil and Water ConservationDingxiPeople’s Republic of China

Personalised recommendations