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Rapid loss of organic carbon and soil structure in mountainous grassland topsoils induced by simulated climate change (2024)

Garcia-Franco N., Wiesmeier M., Buness V., Berauer B., Schuchardt M., Jentsch A., Schlingmann M., Andrade-Linares D., Wolf B., Kiese R., Dannenmann M., Kögel-Knabner I.

Geoderma, 442 (), 116807



Mountainous grassland soils are considered one of the most unique biological hotspots, rich in organic carbon (OC). At the same time, they are exposed to great threats, as climate warming is more pronounced in mountainous regions than in lowland areas. In this study, we assessed the effect of simulated warming (+1K, +2K, and + 3 K) on OC stocks and soil structure in grassland soils of the Northern Limestone Alps in Germany by translocating plant-soil mesocosms from high- (1260 m a.s.l., Rendzic Phaeozem) and mid- (860 m a. s. l., Haplic Cambisol) to low-elevation (600 m a.s.l). Plant-soil mesocosms were exposed to both extensive and intensive grassland management practices. Four years after translocation, we observed a rapid decrease of topsoil SOC stocks under intensive (−1.0 t C ha yr−1) and extensive management (-2.2 t C ha yr−1), under the highest temperature increase. Intensive management with about 1 t C ha−1 yr−1 higher manure C return than extensive management (1.6 vs. 0.8 t C ha−1 yr−1 intensive and extensive, respectively) may explain the difference in SOC losses between different management treatments. Under both management practices, the loss of SOC was mainly associated with a decrease of large macroaggregates, at both management practices. In addition, different aggregate specific OC loss rates resulted in an altered distribution of OC among the aggregate size classes. Our study provides evidence that simulated climate change induced a rapid and substantial decline of SOC in mountainous, OC-rich grassland soils, which may be attributed to decreased physical OC protection within large macroaggregates. Optimized grassland management in form of increased application of organic fertilizers could only partially offset the SOC loss by improved formation of small macroaggregates.