Estimating maximum mineral associated organic carbon in UK grasslands

K Paterson, JM Cloy, RM Rees, Elizabeth M Baggs, Hugh Martineau, Dario Fornara, Andrew J MacDonald, S Buckingham

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Soil organic carbon (SOC) sequestration across agroecosystems worldwide can contribute to mitigate the effects of climate change by reducing levels of atmospheric CO2. Mineral associated organic carbon (MAOC) is considered an important long-term store of SOC and the saturation deficit (difference between measured MAOC and estimated maximum MAOC) is frequently used to assess SOC sequestration potential following the linear regression equation developed by Hassink (1997). However, this approach is often taken without any assessment of the fit of the equation to the soils being studied. The statistical limitations of linear regression have previously been noted, giving rise to the proposed use of boundary line (BL) analysis and quantile regression (QR) to provide more robust estimates of maximum SOC stabilisation. The objectives of this work were to assess the suitability of the Hassink (1997) equation to estimate maximum MAOC in UK grassland soils of varying sward ages and to evaluate the linear regression, BL and QR methods to estimate maximum MAOC. A chronosequence of 10 grasslands was sampled, in order to assess the relationship between sward age (time since last reseeding event) and current and predicted maximum MAOC. Significantly different regression equations show that the Hassink (1997) equation does not accurately reflect maximum MAOC in UK grasslands when determined using the proportion of fine soil fraction and current MAOC. The QR estimate of maximum SOC stabilisation was almost double that of linear regression and BL analysis (0.89 ± 0.074, 0.43 ± 0.017 and 0.57 ± 0.052 g C kg−1 soil, respectively). Sward age had an inconsistent effect on the measured variables and potential maximum MAOC. MAOC across the grasslands made up 4.5 to 55.9 % of total SOC, implying that there may be either high potential for additional C sequestration in the mineral fraction of these soils, or stabilisation in aggregates is predominant in these grassland soils. This work highlights the need to ensure that methods used to predict maximum MAOC reflect the soil in situ, resulting in more accurate assessments of carbon sequestration potential.
Original languageEnglish
JournalBiogeosciences Discussions
Publication statusSubmitted - 6 Aug 2020

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