Australian Journal of Botany Australian Journal of Botany Society
Southern hemisphere botanical ecosystems
RESEARCH ARTICLE

Changes in soil carbon and soil nitrogen after tree clearing in the semi-arid rangelands of Queensland

B. P. Harms A B D , R. C. Dalal A B and A. P. Cramp C

A Department of Natural Resources and Mines, Indooroopilly, Qld 4068, Australia.

B CRC for Greenhouse Accounting, GPO Box 475, Canberra, ACT 2601, Australia.

C School of Land and Food Sciences, University of Queensland, St Lucia, Qld 4068, Australia.

D Corresponding author. Email: ben.harms@nrm.qld.gov.au

Australian Journal of Botany 53(7) 639-650 http://dx.doi.org/10.1071/BT04154
Submitted: 4 October 2004  Accepted: 21 March 2005   Published: 29 November 2005

Abstract

Changes in soil carbon (C) and nitrogen (N) stocks following tree clearing were estimated at 32 rangeland sites in central and southern Queensland by using paired-site sampling. When corrected for soil bulk-density differences at each site, average soil C across all sites decreased after tree clearing by 8.0% for 0–0.3-m soil depth, and by 5.4% for 0–1.0-m depth; there were corresponding declines in soil C of 2.5 and 3.5 t ha–1, respectively. Mean soil C stocks (excluding surface litter, extractable roots and coarse charcoal) at uncleared sites were 29.5 t ha–1 for 0–0.3-m soil depth, and 62.5 t ha–1 for 0–1.0-m depth. Mean soil C stocks (0–0.3 m) were 41% of the mean total C for the soil–plant system (soil + litter/woody debris + stand biomass) at uncleared sites. Soil C decline (0–0.3 m) accounted for approximately 7% of the average total C lost because of land clearing across all sites. Soil C stocks at uncleared sites were correlated with tree basal area, clay content and soil phosphorus (P) content. Changes in soil C after tree clearing were strongly correlated to initial soil C contents at the uncleared sites, and were associated with particular vegetation groups and soil types. Changes in soil N were strongly correlated with changes in soil C; however, the average change in soil N across all sites was not significant. Given the size of the C and N pools in rangeland soils, the factors that influence soil C and soil N dynamics in rangeland systems need to be better understood for the effective management of C stocks in these soils.


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