Soil Research Soil Research Society
Soil, land care and environmental research

Carbon storage in a Ferrosol under subtropical rainforest, tree plantations, and pasture is linked to soil aggregation

Anna E. Richards A B C D E , Ram C. Dalal B C and Susanne Schmidt A

A School of Biological Sciences, The University of Queensland, St Lucia, Qld 4072, Australia.

B Cooperative Research Centre for Greenhouse Accounting.

C Queensland Department of Natural Resources and Water, 80 Meiers Rd, Indooroopilly, Qld 4068, Australia.

D Current address: CSIRO Sustainable Ecosystems, Tropical Ecosystems Research Centre, PMB 44, Winnellie, NT 0822, Australia.

E Corresponding author. Email:

Australian Journal of Soil Research 47(4) 341-350
Submitted: 15 July 2008  Accepted: 6 March 2009   Published: 30 June 2009


Soil is a large sink for carbon (C), with the potential to significantly reduce the net increase in atmospheric CO2 concentration. However, we previously showed that subtropical tree plantations store less C into long-term soil pools than rainforest or pasture. To explore reasons for differences in C storage between different land-use systems, we examined the relationships between soil aggregation, iron and aluminium oxide and hydroxide content, and soil organic C (SOC) under exotic C4 pasture (Pennisetum clandestinum), native hoop pine (Araucaria cunninghamii) plantations, and rainforest. We measured SOC concentrations of water-stable and fully dispersed aggregates to assess the location of soil C. Concentrations of dithionite- and oxalate-extractable iron and aluminium were also determined to assess their role in SOC sequestration. Soil under rainforest and pasture contained more C in intra-aggregate particulate organic matter (iPOM, >53 μm) than hoop pine plantations, indicating that in rainforest and pasture, greater stabilisation of SOC occurred via soil aggregation. SOC was not significantly correlated with dithionite- and oxalate-extractable Fe and Al in these systems, indicating that sorption sites of Fe and Al oxides and hydroxides were saturated. We concluded that soil C under rainforest and pasture is stabilised by incorporation within soil aggregates, which results in greater storage of C in soil under pasture than plantations following land-use change. The reduced storage of C as iPOM in plantation soil contributes to the negative soil C budget of plantations compared with rainforest and pasture, even 63 years after establishment. The results have relevance for CO2 mitigation schemes based on tree plantations.

Additional keywords: Fe and Al oxides, imSOC, iPOM, soil organic carbon, carbon sequestration.


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