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Structural and dynamic properties of soil organic-matter as reflected by 13C natural-abundance, pyrolysis mass-spectrometry and solid-state 13C NMR-spectroscopy in density fractions of an oxisol under forest and pasture

A Golchin, JM Oades, JO Skjemstad and P Clarke

Australian Journal of Soil Research 33(1) 59 - 76
Published: 1995


Changes in the content and isotopic composition of organic carbon as a consequence of deforestation and pasture establishment were studied in three neighbouring areas on an Oxisol from Australia and used to measure the turnover of forest-derived carbon (C3) under pasture (C4) over 35 and 83 year time scales. The results indicated that the quantity of forest-derived carbon declined rapidly during the first 35 years under pasture but the content remained nearly stable thereafter, suggesting the presence of two pools of carbon with different turnover times. The calculated values for turnover time of labile and resistant fractions of forest-derived carbon were 35 and 144 years respectively. The soil samples were separated into five fractions with densities <1.6 (free and occluded), 1.6-1.8, 1.8-2.0 and >2.0 Mg m-3. Based on the spatial distribution of organic materials within the mineral matrix of soil, the soil organic matter contained in different density fractions was classified as free particulate organic matter (1.6 free), occluded particulate organic matter (<1.6 occluded, 1.6-1.8 and 1.8-2.0) and clay associated organic matter (>2.0 Mg m-3). The 13C natural abundance showed that the free particulate organic matter formed a significant pool for soil organic matter turnover when the forest was replaced by pasture. Compared with free particulate organic matter, the organic materials occluded within aggregates had slower turnover times. The occluded organic materials were in different stages of decomposition and had different chemical stabilities. Comparison of the chemistry and isotopic composition of occluded organic materials indicated that the O-alkyl C content of the occluded organic materials was inversely related to their stabilities whereas their aromatic C content was directly related to their stabilities. In soils under pasture, a considerable amount of forest-derived carbon was associated with clay particles in the fractions .2.0 Mg m-3. The rate of accumulation of pasture-derived carbon was also rapid in this fraction, indicating the presence of two different pools of carbon (C3 and C4) associated with clay particles. The forest-derived carbon had the highest stability in the fractions >2.0 Mg m-3, probably due to strong interaction with active aluminium or iron and aluminium oxides associated with clay surfaces.

Keywords: Soil Organic Matter; Turnover; δ 13C; 13C Nmr; Pyrolysis Mass Spectrometry; Density Fractionation; Oxisol;

© CSIRO 1995

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