Soil carbon dynamics in primary and secondary tropical forests in Colombia

Flavio H Moreno-Hurtado, Florida International University


Soils play a central role in the dynamics of biospheric carbon and in climate change. They contain the largest carbon stock of terrestrial ecosystems and return to the atmosphere a significant proportion of carbon fixed by photosynthesis. Soils of tropical forests are tremendously important in the carbon cycle because they receive the largest organic matter inputs, they have the largest respiration rates, and they are among the largest carbon reservoirs among world soils. This research assesses the main components of the soil carbon dynamics in primary (PF) and secondary (SF) tropical forests in Colombia. I evaluated the production, stocks, and decomposition rates of aboveground detritus as well as the stocks, growth, mortality, and decomposition of fine roots in these two forest types. Soil carbon outputs were evaluated as total soil, heterotrophic, and root respiration. The stocks of soil organic carbon down to 4 m deep in these two cover types and in degraded pastures (PAS) were also evaluated. Soil inputs of organic carbon from above and belowground sources were lower in SF than in PF. Litterfall in SF was 58% and production of fine root detritus was 60% of that in PF. When production of woody detritus and palm fronds was considered, the difference between these forest types was even larger. However, outputs of mineral carbon through heterotrophic soil respiration were similar; in SF they equaled 97% of those in PF. As a result, soil carbon balance was positive in PF and negative in SF. Despite that soil carbon balances suggest that soils of SF are losing carbon, soil carbon stocks of SF were higher than of degraded pastures, suggesting that they have already started to recover soil carbon stocks lost under degraded pastures. This discrepancy can be partially explained by the effect of drier conditions on heterotrophic soil respiration as a consequence of a moderate El Niño event during the period of soil respiration measurements. The positive carbon balance in soils of PF despite the El Niño event, suggests that soils of PF accumulated about 664 Kg C ha−1 yr−1. Therefore, soil carbon dynamics mainly depended on successional status of vegetation and on climatic conditions.

Subject Area

Ecology|Biogeochemistry|Soil sciences|Forestry

Recommended Citation

Moreno-Hurtado, Flavio H, "Soil carbon dynamics in primary and secondary tropical forests in Colombia" (2004). ProQuest ETD Collection for FIU. AAI3165150.