Skip to page content
USDA Forest Service

Research & Development Treesearch

Treesearch Home
About Treesearch
Contact Us
Research & Development
Forest Products Lab
International Institute of Tropical Forestry
Pacific Northwest
Pacific Southwest
Rocky Mountain
Southern Research Station
Help - We Participate  Government Made Easy

Global Forest Information Service

US Forest Service
P.O. Box 96090
Washington, D.C.

(202) 205-8333

You are here: Home / Search / Publication Information
Bookmark and Share

Publication Information

View PDF (170 KB)

Title: Soil organic matter dynamics during 80 years of reforestation of tropical pastures

Author: Marin-Spiotta, Erika; Silver, Whendee L.; Swanston, Christopher W.; Ostertag, Rebecca.;

Date: 2009

Source: Global Change Biology. 15: 1584-1597.

Publication Series: Scientific Journal (JRNL)


Our research takes advantage of a historical trend in natural reforestation of abandoned tropical pastures to examine changes in soil carbon (C) during 80 years of secondary forest regrowth. We combined a chronosequence approach with differences in the natural abundance of 13C between C3 (forest) and C4 (pasture) plants to estimate turnover times of C in the bulk soil and in density fractions. Overall, gains in secondary forest C were compensated for by the loss of residual pasture-derived soil C, resulting in no net change in bulk soil C stocks down to 1m depth over the chronosequence. The free light fraction (LF), representing physically unprotected particulate organic matter, was most sensitive to land-use change. Reforestation replenished C in the free LF that had been depleted during conversion to pastures. Turnover times varied with model choice, but in general, soil C cycling rates were rapid for the 0–10 cm depth, with even the heavy fraction (HF) containing C cycling in decadal time scales. Turnover times of C in the free LF from the 0-10 cm depth were shorter than for the occluded and HFs, highlighting the importance of physical location in the soil matrix for residence time in the soil. The majority of the soil C pool (82±21%) was recovered in the mineral-associated density fraction. Carbon-to-nitrogen ratios and differences in natural abundance 15N of soil organic matter (SOM) showed an increasing degree of decomposition across density fractions with increasing mineral association. Our data show that the physical distribution of C in the soil has a large impact on soil C turnover and the ability of soils to maintain SOM stocks during land-use and land-cover change.

Keywords: carbon-13, density fractionation, nitrogen-15, Puerto Rico, secondary forests, succession

Publication Notes:

  • We recommend that you also print this page and attach it to the printout of the article, to retain the full citation information.
  • This article was written and prepared by U.S. Government employees on official time, and is therefore in the public domain.
  • This publication may be available in hard copy. Check the Northern Research Station web site to request a printed copy of this publication.
  • Our on-line publications are scanned and captured using Adobe Acrobat. During the capture process some typographical errors may occur. Please contact Sharon Hobrla, if you notice any errors which make this publication unusable.



Marin-Spiotta, Erika; Silver, Whendee L.; Swanston, Christopher W.; Ostertag, Rebecca. 2009. Soil organic matter dynamics during 80 years of reforestation of tropical pastures. Global Change Biology 15, 1584–1597, doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2486.2008.01805.x


 [ Get Acrobat ]  Get the latest version of the Adobe Acrobat reader or Acrobat Reader for Windows with Search and Accessibility

USDA logo which links to the department's national site. Forest Service logo which links to the agency's national site.