Afforestation is a prevalent practice carried out for soil recovery and carbon sequestration. Improved understanding of the effects of afforestation on soil organic carbon (SOC) content and dynamics is necessary to identify the particular processes of soil organic matter (SOM) formation and/or decomposition that result from afforestation. To elucidate these mechanisms, we have used a sequential density fractionation technique to identify the transfer mechanisms of forest derived C to soil fractions and investigate the impact of afforestation on SOC sequestration. Surface soil samples from continuous maize crop land (C4) and forest land (C3), which had been established 5, 12 and 25 yr, respectively, on the Northeast China Plain were separated into five density fractions. SOC, nitrogen (N) concentration and δ13C data from the three forests and adjacent cropland were compared. Afforestation decreased SOC concentration in the < 2.5 g cm-3 fractions from 5 yr forest sites, but increased SOC content in the < 2.0 g cm-3 fractions from 25 yr forest sites. Afforestation did not affect soil mass distribution, SOC and N proportional weight distributions across the density fractions. The < 1.8 g cm-3 fractions from 12 and 25 yr forests showed higher C/N and lower δ13C as compared to other fractions. Incorporation of forest litter-derived C occurred from low density (< 1.8 g cm-3) fractions to aggregates of higher density (1.8-2.5 g cm-3) through aggregate recombination and C transport in the pore system of the aggregates. Some forest litter-derived C could transfer from the light fractions or directly diffuse and adsorb onto mineral particles. Results from this study indicate that microaggregate protection and association between organic material and minerals provide major contribution to the SOC sequestration in the afforested soil system.
Cong, W., Ren, T., & Li, B. (2015). Assessing the impact of afforestation on soil organic C sequestration by means of sequential density fractionation. PLoS ONE, 10(2). https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0117897