EGU General Assembly 2023
© Author(s) 2023. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Forest conversion cuts off biogeochemical connections of the subsoil to the top

Simone Kilian Salas1, Alberto Andrino2, Elisa Díaz García2, Diana Boy3, Marcus A. Horn3, Jens Boy2, Georg Guggenberger2, and Hermann F. Jungkunst1
Simone Kilian Salas et al.
  • 1iES Landau, RPTU Kaiserslautern-Landau, Germany
  • 2Institute of Soil Science, Leibniz Universität Hannover, Hannover, Germany
  • 3Institute of Microbiology, Leibniz Universität Hannover, Hannover, Germany

Losses in above- and belowground biodiversity are linked to changes in land use practices and immediately affect processes in the upper soil horizons. Theoretically, these superficial changes are reversible unless a tipping point on an ecosystem level was crossed. This safety net of functional redundancy facilitates the return of vital soil functions and processes to the initial state. Little is known about how deep these changes have reached into the subsoil over time, because early warning indicators of a tipping point being about to be crossed are still sparse. This is especially important for the tropics, as soils are typically intensively weathered and nutrient depleted, therefore, plants relying largely on nutrients from below. Net nitrous oxide (N2O) emission rates from the soil surface have proved to be valid proxies for detecting the crossing of tipping points in soil biogeochemistry. Here, we advanced this approach by looking deeply into the soil and reveal that potential greenhouse gas (GHG) production and consumption are useful proxies to estimate how deep the loss of aboveground biodiversity has already impacted soil microbial processes. We performed incubation experiments on forest and pasture soils stemming from shallow as well as 1 m deep profiles from the Peruvian Amazon Basin to determine the production and consumption potential of the GHGs at different water holding capacities. We expected pasture soils to have lost direct carbon(C)-related connections to deeper soil horizons. In forests, roots with different and greater depths also connect deeper soil layers. Therefore, in greater depth, carbon dioxide (CO2) production declined faster under pastures than under forests because C limitations are reached sooner. In the surface, grasses are well known for their input of C and increased CO2 production. Since old pastures are limited in nitrogen (N), almost no N2O should be produced, possibly increasing the potential to take up N2O. However, denitrification is a heterotrophic process also dependent on available C, therefore, the potentials of N2O production and consumption in deeper forest soils were larger with increasing water holding capacity. These findings could indicate that losses in aboveground biodiversity due to forest conversion can have profound impacts on soil microbial processes, extending also to deeper soil layers while altering the connection of the subsoil to the top.

How to cite: Kilian Salas, S., Andrino, A., Díaz García, E., Boy, D., Horn, M. A., Boy, J., Guggenberger, G., and Jungkunst, H. F.: Forest conversion cuts off biogeochemical connections of the subsoil to the top, EGU General Assembly 2023, Vienna, Austria, 24–28 Apr 2023, EGU23-17108,, 2023.