Afforestation Effects on Soil Carbon Storage in the United States: A Synthesis

TitleAfforestation Effects on Soil Carbon Storage in the United States: A Synthesis
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2013
AuthorsNave L.E, Swanston CW, Mishra U., Nadelhoffer K.J
JournalSoil Science Society of America Journal
Date Published04/2013

Afforestation (tree establishment on nonforested land) is a management option for increasing terrestrial C sequestration and mitigating rising atmospheric carbon dioxide because, compared to nonforested land uses, afforestation increases C storage in aboveground pools. However, because terrestrial ecosystems typically store most of their C in soils, afforestation impacts on soil organic carbon (SOC) storage are critical components of ecosystem C budgets. We applied synthesis methods to identify the magnitude and drivers of afforestation impacts on SOC, and the temporal and vertical distributions of SOC change during afforestation in the United States. Meta-analysis of 39 papers from 1957 to 2010 indicated that previous land use drives afforestation impacts on SOC in mineral soils (overall average = +21%), but mined and other industrial lands (+173%) and wildlands (+31%) were the only groups that specifically showed categorically significant increases. Temporal patterns of SOC increase were statistically significant on former industrial and agricultural lands (assessed by continuous meta-analysis), and suggested that meaningful SOC increases require >=15 and 30 yr of afforestation, respectively. Meta-analysis of 13C data demonstrated the greatest SOC changes occur at the surface soil of the profile, although partial replacement of C stocks derived from previous land uses was frequently detectable below 1 m. A geospatial analysis of 409 profiles from the National Soil Carbon Network database supported 13C meta-analysis results, indicating that transition from cultivation to forest increased A horizon SOC by 32%. In sum, our findings demonstrate that afforestation has significant, positive effects on SOC sequestration in the United States, although these effects require decades to manifest and primarily occur in the uppermost (and perhaps most vulnerable) portion of the mineral soil profile.