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Terrain attributes and forage productivity predict catchment-scale soil organic carbon stocks

  • Author(s): Devine, SM
  • O'Geen, AT
  • Liu, H
  • Jin, Y
  • Dahlke, HE
  • Larsen, RE
  • Dahlgren, RA
  • et al.
Abstract

© 2020 Elsevier B.V. Accurate assessments of soil organic carbon (SOC) stocks are needed at multiple scales given their importance to both local soil health and global C cycles. Rangelands cover 54% of California, representing a large stock of SOC, but existing SOC estimates are uncertain. To improve understanding of fine-resolution SOC stocks in complex terrain and provide guidance to rangeland SOC inventories, we grid-sampled 105 locations (21-m grid cells) at two depths (0–10 and 10–30 cm) in a 10-ha annual grassland catchment in California's Central Coast Range. Soils were analyzed for bulk density, coarse fragments, SOC and texture. Monthly aerial imagery was acquired by an unmanned aerial vehicle to compare surface reflectance during two contrasting years (wet vs. dry) to SOC stocks. We found that the 0–30 cm soil thickness held 3.64 ± 0.71 kg SOC m−2 (mean ± SD) with a range of 1.97–5.49 kg SOC m−2. The 0–10 cm soil thickness stored 47% of the 0–30 cm SOC stock with SOC concentrations twice as high in the 0–10 cm layer (1.40 ± 0.38%) as in the 10–30 cm layer (0.71 ± 0.15% SOC). Multiple linear regression (MLR) models explained 50–57% of SOC variability at 0–30 and 10–30 cm, but only 25% of variability at 0–10 cm. Based on cross-validation tests, MLR outperformed spatial interpolation methods and Random Forest models, best explaining SOC stocks with five environmental covariates: wet-year greenness, mean curvature, elevation, insolation, and slope. Lower hillslope positions, concave landforms, and enhanced wet-year greenness were associated with more SOC, and explained 11%, 24%, and 31% of variability in 0–30 cm SOC stocks, respectively. This study demonstrates that the accuracy of regional-scale SOC mapping of California rangelands benefits from considering microclimatic and topographic controls at the catchment-scale, in addition to broader scale mineralogical and macroclimatic controls identified in previous SOC studies.

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