• coniferous shrub;
  • legume shrub;
  • recalcitrant C;
  • soil organic C fractions;
  • C to N ratio

[1] This paper aims at understanding the effect that shrub encroachment into mesic mountain grasslands has on soil organic carbon (SOC) stocks. Thus we compared organic C and N contents in contiguous soil profiles under a conifer shrub, a legume shrub, and grasses (mesic grasslands) on 21 sites. Soil C and N recalcitrance indexes (RIC and RIN) were estimated as the ratio of unhydrolyzable C and N to total C or N. Contrary to our hypothesis, shrub encroachment did not cause a well-defined change in soil C stocks. Only a slight increase in C was detected in the top 15 cm soil layer under both shrubs. The C accretion rate in this soil layer was estimated to be approximately 28–42 g m−2 per annum. Legume shrub encroachment also produced a slight decrease in the C/N ratio in the top 15 cm soil layer. No significant changes in the RIC were detected as a result of encroachment; however, slight decreases in the RIN were found at medium depths. Both RIC and RIN showed a negative relationship with site temperature in the upper legume-shrub soil layers but not in conifer shrubs or under grasses, suggesting a priming effect on the recalcitrant soil stocks produced by the higher-quality inputs derived from legume encroachment.