Backgrounds A multitude of studies have applied different methods to study the dynamics of soil organic carbon (SOC), but the differential impact of artificial and natural afforestation on SOC dynamic are still poorly understood.
Methods and aims We investigated the SOC dynamics following artificial and natural afforestation in Loess Plateau of China, characterizing soil structure and stoichiometry using stable isotope carbon and radiocarbon models. We aim to compare SOC dynamics, clarify SOC source under different afforestation, examine comparability of the study areas and find how soil aggregate size classes control SOC dynamics, finally to evaluate effect of reforestation project.
Results The 0-10cm and 10-20 cm SOC stocks were significant higher than other two land-use system. At other depths, there is no significant difference among the three land-use system. Total top soil SOC stocks, C:N and C:P of differently sized soil aggregates significantly increased following afforestation. 13C results and Radiocarbon models indicated that the SOC decomposition rate and new SOC input rate were lower under natural afforestation than artificial afforestation.
Conclusions Afforestation can accumulate SOC in top soils mainly resulting from in topsoil changing. SOC resource is mainly from macroaggregate formation provided by fresh plant residues. SOC loss from soil respiration was derived from microaggregates during afforestation. The“space-for-time substitution” method is suitable for comparability of the study areas.