Soil carbon and nitrogen in five contrasting biomes of South Africa exposed to different land uses

A.J. Mills, Martin Fey

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    Stocks of soil C to a depth of 50 cm in untransformed, indigenous veld ranged from 21 t ha-1 in karoo to 168 t ha-1 in thicket and stocks of N ranged from 3.4 t ha-1 in karoo to 12.8 t ha-1 in grassland. Mean soil C in thicket (5.6%, 0-10 cm) was approximately five times greater than expected for a semi-arid region. Removal of vegetation due to cultivation, grazing or burning reduced soil C and N at all sites. Soil C under intact thicket was greater than at sites degraded by goats (71 vs 40 t ha-1, 0-10 cm). Restoration of thicket could potentially sequester ~40 t C ha-1. The sale of this sequestered carbon to the international market may make restoration of thousands of hectares of degraded thicket financially feasible. Soil C under plant cover was greater than in exposed soil in renosterveld (28 vs 15 t ha-1) and in karoo (7 vs 5 t ha-1). Parent material was also related to soil C content. In grassland, soil C was greater in dolerite-derived than sandstone-derived soils (54 vs 27 t ha-1); and in bushveld it was greater in basalt-derived than granite-derived soils (28 vs 14 t ha-1 in unburnt plots). Annual burning in bushveld reduced soil C, particularly at the surface. Soil C in the 0-1 cm layer of unburnt plots was 2 to 3 times greater than in burnt plots.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)94-103
    JournalSouth African Journal of Plant and Soil
    Issue number2
    Publication statusPublished - 2004


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