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Keywords:

  • Amazon Basin;
  • Brachiaria;
  • deforestation;
  • global carbon cycle;
  • soil carbon;
  • soil respiration

Abstract

Stocks of carbon in Amazonian forest biomass and soils have received considerable research attention because of their potential as sources and sinks of atmospheric CO2. Fluxes of CO2 from soil to the atmosphere, on the other hand, have not been addressed comprehensively in regard to temporal and spatial variations and to land cover change, and have been measured directly only in a few locations in Amazonia. Considerable variation exists across the Amazon Basin in soil properties, climate, and management practices in forests and cattle pastures that might affect soil CO2 fluxes. Here we report soil CO2 fluxes from an area of rapid deforestation in the southwestern Amazonian state of Acre. Specifically we addressed (1) the seasonal variation of soil CO2 fluxes, soil moisture, and soil temperature; (2) the effects of land cover (pastures, mature, and secondary forests) on these fluxes; (3) annual estimates of soil respiration; and (4) the relative contributions of grass-derived and forest-derived C as indicated by δ13CO2. Fluxes were greatest during the wet season and declined during the dry season in all land covers. Soil respiration was significantly correlated with soil water-filled pore space but not correlated with temperature. Annual fluxes were higher in pastures compared with mature and secondary forests, and some of the pastures also had higher soil C stocks. The δ13C of CO2 respired in pasture soils showed that high respiration rates in pastures were derived almost entirely from grass root respiration and decomposition of grass residues. These results indicate that the pastures are very productive and that the larger flux of C cycling through pasture soils compared with forest soils is probably due to greater allocation of C belowground. Secondary forests had soil respiration rates similar to mature forests, and there was no correlation between soil respiration and either forest age or forest biomass. Hence, belowground allocation of C does not appear to be directly related to the stature of vegetation in this region. Variation in seasonal and annual rates of soil respiration of these forests and pastures is more indicative of flux of C through the soil rather than major net changes in ecosystem C stocks.