Soil organic matter dynamics after the conversion of arable land to pasture

P.F.A.M. Römkens, J. van der Plicht, J. Hassink

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    Conversion of arable land (maize) to pasture will affect the soil organic matter (SOM) content. Changes in the SOM content were studied using a size- and density-fractionation method and 13C analysis. Twenty-six years of maize cropping had resulted in a depletion of carbon stored in the macro-organic fractions (>150 μm) and an increase in the <20 μm fraction. Maize-derived carbon in the upper 20 cm increased from 10% in the finest fraction (<20 μm) to 91% in the coarse (>250 μm), light (b.d. <1.13 g cm-3) fractions. Pasture installation resulted in a rapid recovery of the total SOM content. Up to 90% of the pasture-derived carbon that was mineralized during maize cropping was replaced within 9 years. Especially the medium and coarse size (>150 μm) and light (b.d. < 1.13 g cm-3) fractions were almost completely regenerated by input of root-derived SOM. The amount of medium-weight and heavy macro-organic fractions (>150 μm; b.d. >1.13 g cm-3) in the 0- to 20-cm layer was still 40-50% lower than in the continuous pasture plots. Average half-life times calculated from 13C analyses ranged from 7 years in the light fractions to 56 years in heavy fractions. Fractionation results and 13C data indicated that mechanical disturbance (plowing) during maize cropping had resulted in vertical displacement of dispersed soil carbon from the 0- to 20-cm layer down to 60-80 cm. Conversion of arable land to pasture, therefore, not only causes a regeneration of the soil carbon content, it also reduces the risk of contaminant transport by dispersed soil carbon.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)277-284
    JournalBiology and Fertility of Soils
    Issue number3
    Publication statusPublished - 1999


    • 13C analyses
    • Fractionation
    • Land use change
    • Maize
    • Organic matter
    • Pasture


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