Preprints
https://doi.org/10.5194/soil-2020-92
https://doi.org/10.5194/soil-2020-92

  05 Jan 2021

05 Jan 2021

Review status: this preprint is currently under review for the journal SOIL.

The role of geochemistry in organic carbon stabilization in tropical rainforest soils

Mario Reichenbach1, Peter Fiener1, Gina Garland2, Marco Griepentrog2, Johan Six2, and Sebastian Doetterl1,2 Mario Reichenbach et al.
  • 1Institute of Geography, Augsburg University, Augsburg, 86159 Germany
  • 2Department of Environmental System Science, ETH Zurich, Zurich, 8092, Switzerland

Abstract. Stabilization of organic carbon in soils (SOC) depends on several soil properties, including the soil weathering stage and the mineralogy of parent material. As such, tropical SOC stabilization mechanisms likely differ from those in temperate soils due to contrasting soil development. To better understand these mechanisms, we investigated SOC dynamics at three soil depths under pristine tropical african mountain forest along a geochemical gradient from mafic to felsic and a topographic gradient covering plateau, slope and valley positions. To do so we conducted a series of soil C fractionation experiments in combination with an analysis of the geochemical composition of soil and a sequential extraction of pedogenic oxides. Relationships between our target and predicting variables were investigated using a combination of regression analyses and dimension reduction. Here, we show that reactive secondary mineral phases drive SOC properties and stabilization mechanisms together with, and sometimes more strongly than, other mechanisms such as aggregation or C stabilization by clay content. Key mineral stabilization mechanisms for SOC were strongly related to soil geochemistry, differing across the study regions. These findings were independent of topography in the absence of detectable erosion processes. Instead, fluvial dynamics and changed hydrological conditions had a secondary control on SOC dynamics in valley positions, leading to higher SOC stocks there than at the non-valley positions. We also detected fossil organic carbon (FOC) at several sites, constituting up to 52.0 ± 13.2 % of total SOC stock in the C depleted subsoil. Interestingly, total SOC stocks for these soils did not exceed those of sites without FOC. Additionally, FOC decreased strongly towards more shallow soil depths, indicating decomposability of FOC by microbial communities under more fertile conditions. Regression analysis showed that variables affiliated with soil weathering, parent material geochemistry and soil fertility, together with soil depth, explained up to 75 % of the variability of SOC stocks and Δ14C. Furthermore the same variables explain 44 % of the variability in the relative abundance of C associated with microaggregates versus free silt and clay associated C fractions However, geochemical variables gained or retained importance for explaining SOC target variables when controlling for soil depth. We conclude that despite long-lasting weathering, geochemical properties of soil parent material leave a footprint in tropical soils that affects SOC stocks and mineral related C stabilization mechanisms. While identified stabilization mechanisms and controls are similar to less weathered soils in other climate zones, their relative importance is markedly different in the investigated tropical soils.

Mario Reichenbach et al.

Status: open (until 25 Feb 2021)

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Mario Reichenbach et al.

Mario Reichenbach et al.

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Short summary
In deeply weathered tropical rainforest soils of Africa, we found that patterns of soil organic carbon stocks differ between soils developed from geochemically contrasting parent material due to differences in the abundance of organo-metallic complexes, the presence/absence of chemical stabilization mechanisms of carbon with minerals and the presence of fossil organic carbon from sedimentary rocks. Physical stabilization mechanisms by aggregation provides additional protection of soil carbon.