Soil carbon pools in California’s annual grassland ecosystems

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Silver, Whendee L., Ryals, Rebecca, and Eviner, Valerie
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Rangeland ecosystems cover approximately one-third of the land area in the United States and half of the land area of California. This large land area, coupled with the propensity of grasses to allocate a considerable proportion of their photosynthate belowground, leads to high soil carbon (C) sequestration potential. Annual grasslands typical of the Mediterranean climates of the western United States differ in their life history strategies from the well-studied perennial grasslands of other regions and thus may also differ in their soil C pools and fluxes. In this study we use the literature to explore patterns in soil C storage in annual grass-dominated rangelands in California. We show that soil C is highly predictable with depth. Cumulative soil C content increased to 2–3-m depth in rangelands with a woody component and to at least 1-m depth in open rangelands. Soil C within a given depth varied widely, with C content in the top 1-m depth spanning almost 200 Mg C · ha−1 across sites. Soil C pools were not correlated with temperature or precipitation at a regional scale. The presence of woody plants increased C by an average of 40 Mg · ha−1 in the top meter of soil. Grazed annual grasslands had similar soil C content as ungrazed grassland at all depths examined, although few details on grazing management were available. Soil C pools were weakly positively correlated with clay content and peaked at intermediated levels of aboveground net primary production. Our results suggest that annual grasslands have similar soil C storage capacity as temperate perennial grasslands and offer an important resource for mitigation of greenhouse gas emissions and climate change.


Silver, W. L., R. Ryals, and V. Eviner. 2010. Soil carbon pools in California’s annual grassland ecosystems. Rangeland Ecology & Management 63:128–136.