Cultivation of undisturbed soils dramatically depletes organic carbon stocks at shallow depths, releasing a substantial quantity of stored carbon to the atmosphere. Restoration of native ecosystems can help degraded soils rebuild a portion of the depleted soil organic matter. However, the rate and magnitude of soil carbon accrual can be highly variable from site to site. Thus, a better understanding of the mechanisms controlling soil organic carbon stocks is necessary to improve predictions of soil carbon recovery. We measured soil organic carbon stocks and a suite of edaphic factors in the upper 10 cm of a series of restored tallgrass prairies representing a range of drainage conditions. Our findings suggest that factors related to soil organic matter stabilization mechanisms (texture, polyvalent cations) were key predictors of soil organic carbon, along with variables that influence plant and microbial biomass (available phosphorus, pH) and soil moisture. Exchangeable soil calcium was the strongest single predictor, explaining 74% of the variation in soil organic carbon, followed by clay content, which explained 52% of the variation. Our results demonstrate that the cumulative effects of even relatively small differences in these edaphic properties can have a large impact on soil carbon stocks when integrated over several decades.
O'Brien, S.L., Jastrow, J.D., Grimley, D.A., and Gonzalez-Meler, M.A. (2015): Edaphic controls on soil organic carbon stocks in restored grasslands. Geoderma 251-252: 117–123. DOI: 10.1016/j.geoderma.2015.03.023