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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Association with pedogenic iron and aluminum: effects on soil organic carbon storage and stability in four temperate forest soils

  • Author(s): Porras, RC
  • Hicks Pries, CE
  • McFarlane, KJ
  • Hanson, PJ
  • Torn, MS
  • et al.

© 2017, Springer International Publishing Switzerland (outside the USA). Soil organic carbon (SOC) can be stabilized via association with iron (Fe) and aluminum (Al) minerals. Fe and Al can be strong predictors of SOC storage and turnover in soils with relatively high extractable metals content and moderately acidic to circumneutral pH. Here we test whether pedogenic Fe and Al influence SOC content and turnover in soils with low Fe and Al content and acidic pH. In soils from four sites spanning three soil orders, we quantified the amount of Fe and Al in operationally-defined poorly crystalline and organically-complexed phases using selective chemical dissolution applied to the soil fraction containing mineral-associated carbon. We evaluated the correlations of Fe and Al concentrations, mean annual precipitation (MAP), mean annual temperature (MAT), and pH with SOC content and 14C-based turnover times. We found that poorly crystalline Fe and Al content predicted SOC turnover times (p < 0.0001) consistent with findings of previous studies, while organically-complexed Fe and Al content was a better predictor of SOC concentration (p < 0.0001). Greater site-level MAP (p < 0.0001) and colder site-level MAT (p < 0.0001) were correlated with longer SOC turnover times but were not correlated with SOC content. Our results suggest that poorly crystalline Fe and Al effectively slow the turnover of SOC in these acidic soils, even when their combined content in the soil is less than 2% by mass. However, in the strongly acidic Spodosol, organo-metal complexes tended to be less stable resulting in a more actively cycling mineral-associated SOC pool.

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