- Towards understanding of carbon stocks and stabilization in volcanic ash soils in natural Andean ecosystems of northern Ecuador
- European Journal of Soil Science
- Volume | Issue number
- 61 | 3
- Pages (from-to)
- Document type
- Faculty of Science (FNWI)
- Institute for Biodiversity and Ecosystem Dynamics (IBED)
Volcanic ash soils contain very large stocks of soil organic matter (SOM) per unit area. Consequently, they constitute potential sources or sinks for the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide. Whether soils become a net carbon source or sink with climate and/or land-use change depends on the stability of SOM against decomposition, which is influenced by stabilization mechanisms in the soil. To quantify organic carbon stocks and to clarify the importance of chemical and physical soil characteristics for carbon stabilization in volcanic ash soils, we applied selective extraction techniques, performed X-ray diffraction analysis of the clay fraction and estimated pore-size distribution of soils under natural upper montane forest and grassland (páramo) in the Ecuadorian Andes. Our results show that organic carbon stocks under both vegetation types are roughly twice as large as previously reported global averages for volcanic ash soils. SOM stabilization is suggested to be dominantly influenced by the following chemical and physical soil characteristics: (i) direct stabilization of SOM in organo-metallic (Al-humus) complexes, explaining at most 40% of carbon accumulation, (ii) indirect protection of SOM (notably aliphatic compounds) through low soil pH and toxic levels of Al, and probably also (iii) physical protection of SOM caused by a very large micro-porosity. Moreover, in the case of the forest soils, inherent recalcitrance of OM itself was responsible for substantial accumulation in ectorganic horizons. Both vegetation types contributed to soil acidification, thus increasing SOM accumulation.
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