Kirschbaum, M.U.F., Guo, L.B and Gifford, R.M.  (2008). Observed and modelled soil carbon and nitrogen changes after planting a Pinus radiata stand onto former pasture. Soil Biology and Biochemistry 40: 247-257.


Abstract. After reforesting pasture land, it is often observed that soil carbon stocks decrease. The present work reports findings from a site near Canberra, Australia, where a pine forest (Pinus radiata) was planted onto a former unimproved pasture site. We report a number of detailed observations seeking to understand the basis of the decline in soil C stocks. This is supported by simulations using the whole-ecosystem carbon and nitrogen cycling model CenW 3.1.

The model indicated that over the first 18 years after forest establishment, the site lost about 5.5 tC ha-1 and 588 kgN ha-1 from the soil. The C:N ratio of soil organic matter did not change in a systematic manner over the observational period. Carbon and nitrogen stocks contained in the biomass of the 18-year old pine stand exceeded that of the pasture by 88 tC ha-1 and 393 kgN ha-1. An additional 6.1 tC ha-1 and 110 kgN ha-1 accumulated in above-ground litter. These changes, together with the vertical distribution of carbon and nitrogen in the soil, agreed well with the observation at the site. It was assumed that over 18 years, there was also a loss of 86 kgN ha-1 from the ecosystem because of normal gaseous losses during nitrogen turn-over and a small amount of nitrogen leaching. Those losses could not be replenished in the pine system without symbiotic biological nitrogen fixation, and there were no fertiliser additions.

A simple mass balance approach indicated that the amount of nitrogen accumulating in plant biomass and the litter layer plus the assumed nitrogen loss from the site matched the amount of nitrogen lost from the soil organic nitrogen pool. This reduction in soil nitrogen, together with an unchanged C:N ratio, provided a simple and internally consistent explanation for the observed reduction of soil carbon after reforestation. It supports the general notion that trends in soil carbon upon land-use change can often be controlled by the possible fates of available soil nitrogen.


Keywords: CenW, C:N ratio; Model; Nitrogen; Pasture; Pine; Reforestation; Soil carbon..

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