Johnson K.D.

Atypical soil carbon distribution across a tropical steepland forest catena.

Johnson K.D., Scatena F.N., Silver W.L. Atypical soil carbon distribution across a tropical steepland forest catena. CATENA, In Press, Corrected Proof, Available online 4 August 2011, ISSN 0341-8162, DOI: 10.1016/j.catena.2011.07.008. (

Soil organic carbon (SOC) in a humid subtropical forest in Puerto Rico is higher at ridge locations compared to valleys, and therefore opposite to what is commonly observed in other forested hillslope catenas. To better understand the spatial distribution of SOC in this system, plots previously characterized by topographic position, vegetation type and stand age were related to soil depth and SOC. Additional factors were also investigated, including topographically-related differences in litter dynamics and soil chemistry. To investigate the influence of litter dynamics, the Century soil organic model was parameterized to simulate the effect of substituting valley species for ridge species. Soil chemical controls on C concentrations were investigated with multiple linear regression models using iron, aluminum and clay variables. Deeper soils were associated with indicators of higher landscape stability (older tabonuco stands established on ridges and slopes), while shallower soils persisted in more disturbed areas (younger non-tabonuco stands in valleys and on slopes). Soil depth alone accounted for 77% of the observed difference in the mean 0 to 60 cmSOC between ridge soils (deeper) and valley soils (shallower). The remaining differences in SOC were due to additional factors that lowered C concentrations at valley locations in the 0 to 10 cm pool. Model simulations showed a slight decrease in SOC when lower litter C:N was substituted for higher litter C:N, but the effects of different woody inputs on SOC were unclear. Multiple linear regression models with ammonium oxalate extractable iron and aluminum, dithionite–citrate-extractable iron and aluminum, and clay contents explained as much as 74% of the variation in C concentrations, and indicated that organo-mineral complexation may be more limited in poorly developed valley soils. Thus, topography both directly and indirectly affects SOC pools through a variety of inter-related processes that are often not quantified or captured in terrestrial carbon models.

Controls on soil organic matter content within a northern hardwood forest

Johnson, K.D.; Scatena, F.N.; Johnson, A.H.; Pan, Y. 2009. Controls on soil organic matter content within a northern hardwood forest. Geoderma. 148(3-4): 346-356.

Forest soils can act as both sinks and sources for atmospheric CO2 and therefore have an important role in the global carbon cycle. Yet the controls on forest soil organic matter content (SOM) distribution at the scale of operational land management scales within forest types are rarely quantified in detail. To identify factors that influence the spatial distribution and accumulation of SOM in forests, soils and stand composition data from 42 even-aged northern hardwood forest plots were analyzed using multiple linear regression and non-parametric statistical approaches. The analysis included three layers of SOM pools (forest floor, 0–20 cm mineral soil, and 20+ cm mineral soil) over three spatial scales (point, plot and regional). The largest amounts of total SOM (mean = 289, std dev = 70 Mg ha− 1) occurred in deep and well drained soils located on gently grading slopes. When soil layers were analyzed separately, the following relationships were observed: 1) highest forest floor SOM occurred under mixed species composition as opposed to stands dominated by sugar maple, 2) highest 0–20 cm mineral SOM occurred at high elevations (greater than 450 m) in moderately well drained soils, and 3) highest 20+ cm mineral SOM also occurred at high elevations and when soils were deeper. Further analysis of 0–20 cm mineral layer revealed that lower rock volume and finer soil texture resulted in higher SOM at a single point. When SOM that was predicted from models based on plot-specific attributes (soils series, slope and aspect) were compared to soil survey SOM estimates, the mean SOM values for both approaches were similar (253 and 269 Mg ha− 1 respectively). Easily identifiable characteristics such as mixed stand composition, the presence of forest floor and E horizon thickness may be used as field indicators of SOM storage. The variety of controls identified in this study should be considered when assessing soil carbon response to management options and future changes in climate.


Kristofer Dee Johnson, "Modeling spatial and temporal patterns of soil organic carbon in two montane landscapes: The northern hardwoods, Vermont and the tabonuco forest, Puerto Rico" (January 1, 2008). Dissertations available from ProQuest. Paper AAI3328590.

Forest soils contribute to a significant portion of the world’s carbon flux due to both natural and anthropogenic changes. In terms of human management of carbon pools, forest soil organic matter (SOM) is important because it potentially stores carbon more permanently than living vegetation. Yet, this potential is poorly understood or managed for because of the difficulty in measuring changes in SOM pools over time and space. Modeling combined with intensive field sampling can help overcome these limitations because it extracts from empirically observed relationships to account for the components of SOM formation (topography, time, parent material, organisms and climate[fns2]). This study utilizes intensive field data, statistical models and process-based ecosystem models to investigate the spatial distribution and dynamics of soil organic carbon dynamics in two contrasting ecosystems – the northern hardwood forest in the Green Mountains, VT and the tabonuco forest in the Luquillo Experimental Forest, PR. In both forests landscape position emerged as the dominate factor in explaining SOM distribution. In Vermont, additional variation was explained by aspect and slope and in Puerto Rico additional variation was explained by landscape factors interrelated to soil drainage. Process-based modeling proved to be a useful management and experimental tool in cases were empirical approaches were impractical for both forests. In Vermont, three ecosystem models demonstrated a substantial reduction of soil organic carbon and harvestable biomass due to the removal of woody carbon by logging after 240 years of rotations. In Puerto Rico, the Century model showed that changes in litter quality and quantity were not likely responsible in explaining landscape level SOM differences. Overall, well drained soils located in colder climates stored the highest SOM whereas poorly drained and highly disturbed soils in steep humid climates stored the lowest SOM. This research demonstrates that although SOM amounts are highly variable over many spatial and temporal scales, intuitive relationships are borne out with modeling tools and by careful investigation of the five soil forming factors. Results also raise questions about how these ecosystems and their SOM pools may change in response to changing climate conditions of the future.
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