20 Jul 2023
 | 20 Jul 2023
Status: this preprint is open for discussion.

Soil carbon, nitrogen, and phosphorus storage in juniper-oak savanna: Role of vegetation and geology

Che-Jen Hsiao, Pedro A. M. Leite, Ayumi Hyodo, and Thomas W. Boutton

Abstract. Woody plant encroachment into grasslands and savannas has been globally widespread during the past century, likely driven by interactions between grazing, fire suppression, rising atmospheric CO2, and climate change. In the southernmost U.S. Great Plains, Ashe juniper and live oak have increased in abundance. To evaluate potential interactions between this vegetation change and the underlying soil parent material on ecosystem biogeochemistry, we quantified soil organic carbon (SOC), total nitrogen (TN), total phosphorus (TP), and δ13C of SOC in soils obtained from trenches passing through grassland, juniper, and oak patches on soils lying atop Edwards vs. Buda limestone formations in central Texas. Soils on the Edwards formation are more shallow and have more rock outcropping than those on Buda. The δ13C of SOC under grasslands was -19 ‰, while those under woody patches were -21 to -24 ‰, indicating wooded areas were relatively recent components of the landscape. Compared to grasslands, areas now dominated by juniper or oak had elevated SOC, TN, and TP storage in soils lying atop Edwards limestone. In Buda soils, only oak patches had increased SOC, TN, and TP storage compared to grasslands. Woody encroachment effects on soil nutrients were higher in soils on the Edwards formation, perhaps because root and litter inputs were more concentrated in the relatively shallow layer of soil atop the Edwards bedrock. Our findings suggest geological factors should be considered in predicting responses of nutrient stores in savannas following vegetation change. Given that woody encroachment is occurring globally, our results have important implications for the management and conservation of these ecosystems. The potential interactive effects between vegetation change and soil parent material on C, N, and P storage warrant attention in future studies aimed at understanding and modeling the global consequences of woody encroachment.

Che-Jen Hsiao et al.

Status: open (until 26 Oct 2023)

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Che-Jen Hsiao et al.


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Short summary
Tree cover has increased in grasslands worldwide, with juniper and oak trees expanding in south Great Plains USA. Our study investigates how these changes interact with geology to affect soil C, N, and P storage. Soil concentrations of these elements were significantly higher under trees than grasslands, but increased more under trees growing on Edwards soils. Our findings suggest that geology and vegetation change should be considered when predicting soil storage in dryland ecosystems globally.