The interactive effects of climate and topography on the composition, distribution and storage of soil organic carbon (SOC) remain unclear. This is particularly true for pyrogenic carbon (PyC) which is considered long-lasting in soil environments. With a goal to characterize how PyC responds to climate-dependent erosion and deposition processes, two hillslopes from SE Australia, differing in climate (MAP: 549 vs. 815 mm) and vegetation but with similar topography were selected for this study. We examined the colluvial soils that include A and B horizons on eroding (convex) and depositional (convergent) areas within each hillslope. Mid-infrared measurements with a partial least squares regression model were adopted to quantify the size and distribution of SOC fractions (i.e., particulate organic carbon (POC) fraction, humus organic carbon (HOC) and resistant organic carbon (ROC; representing PyC fraction) along the two hillslopes. These SOC fractions were examined with respect to climate, topographic position and soil depth. Total SOC was dominated by HOC (44 to 88%) followed by PyC (7 to 37%) and POC (0 to 37%). Effects of topography on inventories of PyC were more strongly expressed in the drier hillslope (eroding vs. depositional: 0.39 vs. 1.73 kg m−2) than the wetter hillslope (eroding vs. depositional: 1.14 vs. 2.46 kg m−2), which also illustrates that climatic effects on soil PyC differ between eroding and depositional hillslope areas. In contrast, relative contributions of PyC to SOC showed less systematic variation with topography (6.9–36.8% in eroding soils vs. 6.9–37.3% in depositional soils) and climate (6.9–36.8% at drier site vs. 6.9–37.3% at wetter site), which together with other laboratory and field data suggest that erosion may not preferentially transport PyC over other organic carbon forms or that erosional PyC flux may not be large enough to alter SOC concentration and distribution into fractions. Our results highlight the importance of considering topography in understanding SOC pools in general and PyC specifically under different climates.
Bibliographical noteFunding Information:
We thank R. Amundson and A. Heimsath for our earlier collaboration on soil carbon erosion and weathering at these sites which paved the way for this study. We thank B. Burke for assisting soil sampling. We are also grateful to Jessica Gutknecht and Thanwalee Sooksa-nguan for assistance with soil carbon and nitrogen isotope analysis. This work was funded by a National Science Foundation grant to Yoo ( EAR1253198 ) and USDA NIFA grant to Sanderman ( 2017-67003-26481 ). Two anonymous reviewers are acknowledged for their constructive reviews that improved the paper.
- Pyrogenic carbon
- Soil carbon