The effects of forest-to-pasture conversion on soil carbon (C) stocks depend on a combination of climatic and management factors, but factors that relate to grazing intensity are perhaps the least understood. To understand the long-term impact of grazing in converted pastures, methods are needed that accurately measure the impact of grazing on recent plant inputs to soil C in a variety of pasture management and climate settings. Here, we present an analysis from Hawai'i of changes in vegetation structure and soil organic carbon (SOC) along gradients of grazing intensity and elevation in pastures converted from dry tropical forest 100 years ago. We used hyperspectral remote sensing of photosynthetic vegetation, nonphotosynthetic vegetation (NPV) and exposed substrate to understand the effects of grazing on plant litter cover, thus, estimating recent plant inputs to soils (the NPV component). Forest-to-pasture conversion caused a shift from C3 to C4 plant physiology, thus the δ13C method was used in soil cores to measure the fraction of SOC accumulated from pasture vegetation sources following land conversion. SOC decreased in pasture by 5–9 kg C m−2, depending upon grazing intensity. SOC derived from C3 (forest) sources was constant across the grazing gradient, indicating that the observed variation in SOC was attributable to changes in C inputs following deforestation. Soil C stocks were also reduced in pastures relative to forest soils. We found that long-term grazing lowers SOC following Hawaiian forest-to-pasture conversion, and that these changes are larger in magnitude that those occurring with elevation (climate). Further we demonstrate a relationship between remotely sensed measurements of surface litter and field SOC measurements, allowing for regional analysis of pasture condition and C storage where limited field data are available.
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