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Legacy effects of grassland management on soil carbon to depth

Lookup NU author(s): Dr Robert Shiel


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The importance of managing land to optimize carbon sequestration for climate change mitigation is widely recognized, with grasslands being identified as having the potential to sequester additional carbon. However, most soil carbon inventories only consider surface soils, and most large-scale surveys group ecosystems into broad habitats without considering management intensity. Consequently, little is known about the quantity of deep soil carbon and its sensitivity to management. From a nationwide survey of grassland soils to 1m depth, we show that carbon in grassland soils is vulnerable to management and that these management effects can be detected to considerable depth down the soil profile, albeit at decreasing significance with depth. Carbon concentrations in soil decreased as management intensity increased, but greatest soil carbon stocks (accounting for bulk density differences), were at intermediate levels of management. Our study also highlights the considerable amounts of carbon in subsurface soil below 30cm, which is missed by standard carbon inventories. We estimate grassland soil carbon in Great Britain to be 2097TgC to a depth of 1m, with -60% of this carbon being below 30cm. Total stocks of soil carbon (tha(-1)) to 1m depth were 10.7% greater at intermediate relative to intensive management, which equates to 10.1tha(-1) in surface soils (0-30cm), and 13.7tha(-1) in soils from 30 to 100cm depth. Our findings highlight the existence of substantial carbon stocks at depth in grassland soils that are sensitive to management. This is of high relevance globally, given the extent of land cover and large stocks of carbon held in temperate managed grasslands. Our findings have implications for the future management of grasslands for carbon storage and climate mitigation, and for global carbon models which do not currently account for changes in soil carbon to depth with management.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Ward SE, Smart SM, Quirk H, Tallowin JRB, Mortimer SR, Shiel RS, Wilby A, Bardgett RD

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: Global Change Biology

Year: 2016

Volume: 22

Issue: 8

Pages: 2929-2938

Print publication date: 01/08/2016

Online publication date: 09/05/2016

Acceptance date: 25/01/2016

ISSN (print): 1354-1013

ISSN (electronic): 1365-2486

Publisher: Wiley-Blackwell Publishing Ltd.


DOI: 10.1111/gcb.13246


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