In the lower montane region of northwestern Ecuador, forest clearing for sugar cane and pasture production occurs simultaneously with recolonization of secondary forest vegetation on abandoned agricultural lands. We estimated the loss of forest-derived soil C (light in 13 C) and the accumulation of C from replicate sugar cane and pasture vegetation (heavy in 13 C) using a stable C isotope technique. We also measured differences in the proportion of soil C derived from C 3 and C 4 plants across a land-use progression from agricultural fields through successional communities and undisturbed forest. Total soil C was 23 Mg/ha lower in the upper 30 cm following 50 yr of sugar cane production (24%% decrease) compared to old-growth forest. The net change (−−0.4 Mg··ha −−1 ··yr −−1 ) in soil C consisted of 1.3 Mg/ha annual losses of original forest C and 0.9 Mg/ha annual gains of C from sugar cane. After 15 yr beneath pasture, soil C was 11 Mg/ha less in the upper 30 cm than beneath forest (12%% decrease). During that period, 33%% of the original forest C was lost, compared to 68%% released during 50 yr of sugar cane cultivation. Rate of forest C loss, C 4 -C accumulation, and net soil C change differed little between two distinct pasture types. Setaria sphacelata pasture and a traditional mixed-species pasture both contained more total soil C and added C 4 -C more rapidly than sugar cane. Under second-growth forest, soil C increased by 1.9 Mg··ha −−1 ··yr −−1 , the result of a 3 Mg/ha annual increase in C 3 carbon and a 1.1 Mg/ha annual loss of C 4 carbon. The total soil C pool returned to preclearing levels within 20 yr. While widespread reforestation may be thwarted by high demands for land in northwestern Ecuador, agricultural land-use options exist that can contribute to increased soil C stocks.
Ecological Applications – Ecological Society of America
Published: Apr 1, 2000
Keywords: deforestation ; Ecuador ; pasture ; secondary forest ; Setaria sphacelata ; soil carbon sequestration ; soil organic matter ; stable carbon isotopes ; sugar cane agriculture
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