Land Use and Land Cover Affect the Depth Distribution of Soil Carbon: Insights From a Large Database of Soil Profiles
Published Web Locationhttps://doi.org/10.3389/fenvs.2020.00146
Soils contain a large and dynamic fraction of global terrestrial carbon stocks. The distribution of soil carbon (SC) with depth varies among ecosystems and land uses and is an important factor in calculating SC stocks and their vulnerabilities. Systematic analysis of SC depth distributions across databases of SC profiles has been challenging due to the heterogeneity of soil profile measurements, which vary in depth sampling. Here, we fit over 40,000 SC depth profiles to an exponential decline relationship with depth to determine SC concentration at the top of the mineral soil, minimum SC concentration at depth, and the characteristic “length” of SC concentration decline with depth. Fitting these parameters allowed profile characteristics to be analyzed across a large and heterogeneous dataset. We then assessed the differences in these depth parameters across soil orders and land cover types and between soil profiles with or without a history of tillage, as represented by the presence of an Ap horizon. We found that historically tilled soils had more gradual decreases of SC with depth (greater e-folding depth or Z∗), deeper SC profiles, lower SC concentrations at the top of the mineral soil, and lower total SC stocks integrated to 30 cm. The large database of profiles allowed these results to be confirmed across different land cover types and spatial areas within the Continental United States, providing robust evidence for systematic impacts of historical tillage on SC stocks and depth distributions.