Soil organic carbon dynamics at the regional scale as influenced by land use history: a case study in forest soils from southern Belgium


A. Stevens. E-mail:


Land use change (LUC) is known to have a large impact on soil organic carbon (SOC) stocks. However, at a regional scale, our ability to explain SOC dynamics is limited due to the variability generated by inconsistent initial conditions between sample points, poor spatial information on previous land use/land management history and scarce SOC inventories. This study combines the resampling in 2003–2006 of an extensive soil survey in 1950–1960 with exhaustive historical data on LUC (1868–2006) to explain observed changes in the SOC stocks of temperate forest soils in the Belgian Ardennes. Results from resampling showed a significant loss of SOC between the two surveys, associated with a decrease in variability. The mean carbon content decreased from 40.4 to 34.5 g C kg−1 (10.6 to 9.6 kg C m−2), with a mean rate of C change (ΔSOC) of −0.15 g C kg−1 year−1 (−0.023 kg C m−2 year−1). Soils with high SOC content tended to loose carbon while conversely soils with low SOC tended to gain carbon. Land use change history explained a significant part of past and current SOC stocks as well as ΔSOC during the last 50 years. We show that the use of spatially explicit historical data can help to quantitatively explain changes in SOC content at the regional scale.