Soil Biodiversity Integral to Carbon Cycling

The respiration of soil is a key function in the carbon cycle, moving carbon from the ground to the atmosphere.

Peatland across Northern Europe occupies somewhere in the region of 3.5 million km2 and holds one third of the world’s soil carbon. These areas are under pressure from increased agricultural activity, which accelerates the net loss of carbon dioxide. Theory and practice suggests that afforestation will result in net carbon uptake and reduce carbon loss to the atmosphere from soil respiration. Although soils are thought to act as a sink for carbon, land-use change such as agriculture alters the way that carbon dioxide is emitted.

Currently tree plantations are believed to be a worthwhile mitigation technique against climate change. However, in a research paper published in Soil Biology and Biochemistry, researchers found that previous agriculture on afforested land led to higher soil respiration than undisturbed areas, up to decades after afforestation.

At present, European legislation is placing an emphasis on the role of afforestation in combating climate change. This research suggests that further work is required into the effects of climate change on soil biodiversity and the subsequent effect on the carbon cycle.

BES members and readers of the blog are invited to discuss this article.