Syswerda, S. P., A. T. Corbin, D. L. Mokma, A. N. Kravchenko, and G. P. Robertson. 2011. Agricultural management and soil carbon storage in surface vs. deep layers. Soil Science Society of America Journal 75:92-101.
Soil C sequestration research has historically focused on the top 0 to 30 cm of the soil profile, ignoring deeper portions that might also respond to management. In this study we sampled soils along a 10-treatment management intensity gradient to a 1-m depth to test the hypothesis that C gains in surface soils are offset by losses lower in the profile. Treatments included four annual cropping systems in a corn (Zea mays)-soybean (Glycine max)- wheat (Triticum aestivum) rotation, perennial alfalfa (Medicago sativa) and poplar (Populus x euramericana), and four unmanaged successional systems. The annual grain systems included conventionally tilled, no-tillage, reduced-input, and organic systems. Unmanaged treatments included a 12-yr-old early successional community, two 50-yr-old mid-successional communities, and a mature forest never cleared for agriculture. All treatments were replicated three to six times and all cropping systems were 12 yr post-establishment when sampled. Surface soil C concentrations and total C pools were significantly greater under no-till, organic, early successional, never-tilled mid-successional, and deciduous forest systems than in the conventionally managed cropping system (p ≤ 0.05, n = 3–6 replicate sites). We found no consistent differences in soil C at depth, despite intensive sampling (30–60 deep soil cores per treatment). Carbon concentrations in the B/Bt and Bt2/C horizons were lower and two and three times more variable, respectively, than in surface soils. We found no evidence for C gains in the surface soils of no-till and other treatments to be either offset or magnified by carbon change at depth.
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