Pabst, H; Kühnel, A; Kuzyakov, Y: Effect of land-use and elevation on microbial biomass and water extractable carbon in soils of Mt. Kilimanjaro ecosystems, Applied Soil Ecology, 67, 10-19 (2013)
Microbial biomass carbon (MBC) and water-extractable organic carbon (WOC) – as sensitive and important parameters for soil fertility and C turnover – are strongly affected by land-use changes all over the world. These effects are particularly distinct upon conversion of natural to agricultural ecosystems due to very fast carbon (C) and nutrient cycles and high vulnerability, especially in the tropics. The objective of this study was to use the unique advantage of Mt. Kilimanjaro – altitudinal gradient leading to different tropical ecosystems but developed all on the same soil parent material – to investigate the effects of land-use change and elevation on MBC and WOC contents during a transition phase from dry to wet season. Down to a soil depth of 50 cm, we compared MBC and WOC contents of 2 natural (Ocotea and Podocarpus forest), 3 seminatural (lower montane forest, grassland, savannah), 1 sustainably used (homegarden) and 2 intensively used (maize field, coffee plantation) ecosystems on an elevation gradient from 950 to 2850 m a.s.l. Independent of land-use, both MBC and WOC strongly increased with elevation on Mt. Kilimanjaro corresponding to ecosystem productivity and biodiversity. Through the agricultural use of ecosystems MBC and WOC contents decreased – especially in surface layers – on average by 765 mg kg−1 for MBC and 916 mg kg−1 for WOC, compared to the respective natural ecosystems. The decrease with depth was highest for forests > grasslands > agroecosystems and also was positively correlated with elevation. We conclude that MBC and WOC contents in soils of Mt. Kilimanjaro ecosystems are highly sensitive to land-use changes, especially in topsoil. The MBC and WOC contents were considerably reduced even in sustainable agricultural systems. Since MBC and WOC are very fast reacting and sensitive C pools, we expect a decrease in other soil C pools accompanied by a strong decrease in fertility and productivity due to changes in land use from natural to agricultural ecosystems.
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