21 Oct 2022
21 Oct 2022
Status: this preprint is open for discussion.

Deforestation for agriculture leads to soil warming and enhanced litter decomposition in subarctic soils

Tino Peplau1, Christopher Poeplau1, Edward Gregorich2, and Julia Schroeder1 Tino Peplau et al.
  • 1Thünen Institute of Climate-Smart Agriculture, Bundesallee 68, 38116 Braunschweig, Germany
  • 2Ottawa Research and Development Centre, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, Ottawa, ON K1A 0C6, Canada

Abstract. The climate-change induced poleward shift of agriculture could lead to enforced deforestation of subarctic forest. Deforestation alters the microclimate and, thus, soil temperature, which is an important driver of decomposition. The consequences of land-use change on soil temperature and decomposition in temperature-limited ecosystems is not well understood. In this study, we buried litter bags together with soil temperature loggers at two depths (10 and 50 cm) in native subarctic forest soils and adjacent agricultural land in the Yukon Territory, Canada. A total of 37 plots was established on a wide range of different soils and resampled after two years to quantify the land-use effect on soil temperature and decomposition of fresh organic matter. Average soil temperature over the whole soil profile was 2.1 ± 1.0 °C and 2.0 ± 0.8 °C higher in cropland and grassland soils compared to forest soils. Cumulative degree days (the annual sum of daily mean temperatures > 0 °C) increased significantly by 773 ± 243 (cropland) and 670 ± 285 (grassland). Litter decomposition was enhanced by 2.0 ± 10.4 % and 7.5 ± 8.6 % in cropland topsoil and subsoil, compared to forest soils, but no significant difference in decomposition was found between grassland and forest soils. Increased litter decomposition may not be attributed to increased temperature alone, but also to management effects, such as irrigation of croplands. The results suggest that deforestation-driven temperature changes exceed the soil temperature increase already observed in Canada due to climate change. Deforestation thus amplifies the climate-carbon feedback by increasing soil warming and organic matter decomposition.

Tino Peplau et al.

Status: open (until 08 Dec 2022)

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Tino Peplau et al.


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Short summary
We buried tea bags and temperature loggers in a paired-plot design in soils under forest and agricultural land and retrieved them after two years to quantify the effect of land-use change on soil temperature and litter decomposition in subarctic agricultural systems. We could show that agricultural soils were on average 2 °C warmer than forests and litter decomposition was enhanced. The results imply that deforestation amplifies effects of climate change on soil organic matter dynamics.