Surficial gains and subsoil losses of soil carbon and nitrogen during secondary forest development.

Thumbnail Image



Journal Title

Journal ISSN

Volume Title

Repository Usage Stats


Citation Stats


Reforestation of formerly cultivated land is widely understood to accumulate above- and belowground detrital organic matter pools, including soil organic matter. However, during 40 years of study of reforestation in the subtropical southeastern USA, repeated observations of above- and belowground carbon documented that significant gains in soil organic matter (SOM) in surface soils (0-7.5 cm) were offset by significant SOM losses in subsoils (35-60 cm). Here, we extended the observation period in this long-term experiment by an additional decade, and used soil fractionation and stable isotopes and radioisotopes to explore changes in soil organic carbon and soil nitrogen that accompanied nearly 50 years of loblolly pine secondary forest development. We observed that accumulations of mineral soil C and N from 0 to 7.5 cm were almost entirely due to accumulations of light-fraction SOM. Meanwhile, losses of soil C and N from mineral soils at 35 to 60 cm were from SOM associated with silt and clay-sized particles. Isotopic signatures showed relatively large accumulations of forest-derived carbon in surface soils, and little to no accumulation of forest-derived carbon in subsoils. We argue that the land use change from old field to secondary forest drove biogeochemical and hydrological changes throughout the soil profile that enhanced microbial activity and SOM decomposition in subsoils. However, when the pine stands aged and began to transition to mixed pines and hardwoods, demands on soil organic matter for nutrients to support aboveground growth eased due to pine mortality, and subsoil organic matter levels stabilized. This study emphasizes the importance of long-term experiments and deep measurements when characterizing soil C and N responses to land use change and the remarkable paucity of such long-term soil data deeper than 30 cm.





Published Version (Please cite this version)


Publication Info

Mobley, Megan L, Kate Lajtha, Marc G Kramer, Allan R Bacon, Paul R Heine and Daniel Deb Richter (2015). Surficial gains and subsoil losses of soil carbon and nitrogen during secondary forest development. Global change biology, 21(2). pp. 986–996. 10.1111/gcb.12715 Retrieved from

This is constructed from limited available data and may be imprecise. To cite this article, please review & use the official citation provided by the journal.

Unless otherwise indicated, scholarly articles published by Duke faculty members are made available here with a CC-BY-NC (Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial) license, as enabled by the Duke Open Access Policy. If you wish to use the materials in ways not already permitted under CC-BY-NC, please consult the copyright owner. Other materials are made available here through the author’s grant of a non-exclusive license to make their work openly accessible.