The loss of soil organic matter (SOM) has widely been reported in the tropics after changing land use from shifting cultivation to continuous cropping. We tested whether continuous maize cultivation accelerates SOM loss compared to upland rice and forest fallow. Methods: Because litter sources include C4 plants (maize in maize fields and Imperata grass in upland rice fields) in Thailand, C3-derived and C4-derived SOM can be traced using the differences in natural 13C abundance (δ13C) between C3 and C4 plants. We analyzed the effects of land use history (cultivation or forest fallow period) on C stocks in the surface soil. Soil C stocks decreased with the cultivation period in both upland rice and maize fields.
The rate of soil organic carbon loss was higher in maize fields than in upland rice fields. The decomposition rate constant (first order kinetics) of C3-plant-derived SOM was higher in the maize fields than in the upland rice fields and the C4-plant-derived SOM in the forest fallow. Soil surface exposure and low input of root-derived C in the maize fields are considered to accelerate SOM loss. Soil C stocks increased with the forest fallow period, consistent with the slow decomposition of C4-plant-derived SOM in the forest fallows.
Continuous maize cultivation accelerates SOM loss, while forest fallow and upland rice cultivation could mitigate the SOM loss caused by continuous maize cultivation.