Effects of land use and forest management on soil carbon in the ecoregions of Maryland and adjacent eastern United States

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College of Forest Resources and Environmental Science


The impacts of forest-related land use and management on soil organic carbon (SOC) stocks have been investigated through years of primary research and review articles. This attention is justified given the importance of land use and management to greenhouse gas mitigation, soil and forest productivity, and other ecosystem services. However, there is a gap of scale and scope between site-level studies that control for sources of variation, producing high-confidence results for limited locations, and the broad reviews that offer more general conclusions. The present analysis is intended to fill that gap. Here, we focus on six ecoregions of the eastern United States, and integrate meta-analysis of published literature with synthesis of geo-referenced soil observations to: (1) test whether common land use and management practices quantitatively impact SOC; (2) identify key sources of variation in these effects; (3) assess how sources of variation translate to decisions about land use and management at ecoregional to landscape levels. Results corroborate general trends, such as O horizon SOC losses with harvesting and fire and SOC gains during reforestation, but provide greater detail about the influence of specific practices and site-level controls on SOC stocks and change in the study region. Results also show that: (1) harvest impacts depend upon landform and soil taxonomy; (2) harvesting forests that are recovering on previously cultivated lands decreases SOC; (3) tree biomass and SOC recovery increase concurrently during reforestation; (4) specific harvest, site preparation, and fire management practices affect the magnitude and variability of changes in SOC. Perhaps more importantly, ecoregional classification and soil taxonomy provide spatial frameworks for placing quantitative estimates of SOC stocks and changes in the geographic context of the study region, providing greater detail and specificity for individuals and institutions concerned with SOC management at more localized levels.

Publisher's Statement

© 2019 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved. Publisher’s version of record: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.foreco.2019.05.072

Publication Title

Forest Ecology and Management