Soil organic carbon content at a range of north Australian tropical savannas with contrasting site histories

Publication Type:
Journal Article
Citation:
Plant and Soil, 2005, 268 (1), pp. 161 - 171
Issue Date:
2005-01-01
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Soils play an important role in the global carbon cycle, and can be major source or sink of CO2depending upon land use, vegetation type and soil management practices. Natural and human impact on soil carbon concentration and storage is poorly understood in native north Australian savanna, yet this represents the largest carbon store in the ecosystem. To gain understanding of possible management impacts on this carbon pool, soil organic carbon (SOC) of the top 1m of red earth sands and sandy loams common in the region was sampled at 5 sites with different vegetation cover and site history (fire regime and tree removal). SOC was high when compared to other published values for savannas and was more comparable with dry-deciduous tropical forests. Sites sampled in this study represent high rainfall savannas of northern Australia (> 1700 mm annual rainfall) that feature frequent burning (2 in 3 years or more frequent) and a cycle of annual re-growth of tall C4grasses that dominate the savanna understorey. These factors may be responsible for the higher than expected SOC levels of the surface soils, despite high respiration rates. Medium term fire exclusion (15-20 years) at one of the sampled sites (Wildlife Park) dramatically reduced the grassy biomass of the understorey. This site had lower SOC levels when compared to the grass dominated and frequently burnt sites, which may be due to a reduction in detrital input to surface (0-30 cm) soil carbon pools. Exclusion of trees also had a significant impact on both the total amount and distribution of soil organic carbon, with tree removal reducing observed SOC at depth (100 cm). Soil carbon content was higher in the wet season than that in the dry season, but this difference was not statistically significant. Our results indicated that annual cycle of grass growth and wildfire resulted in small carbon accumulation in the upper region of the soil, and removal of woody plants resulted in significant carbon losses to recalcitrant, deep soil horizons greater than 80 cm depth. © Springer 2005.
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