An empirical model approach for assessing soil organic carbon stock changes following biomass crop establishment in Britain

Journal Reference

Biomass and Bioenergy, Volume 83, December 2015, Pages 141-151.

Gary J. McClean1, Rebecca L. Rowe1, Kate V. Heal1, Andrew Cross1, Gary D. Bending2, Saran P. Sohi1 

Show Affiliations
  1. School of GeoSciences, University of Edinburgh, Crew Building, The King’s Buildings, Edinburgh, EH9 3FF, Scotland, United Kingdom
  2. School of Life Sciences, University of Warwick, Coventry, CV4 7AL, England, United Kingdom


Land-use change (LUC) is a major influence on soil organic carbon (SOC) stocks and the global carbon cycle. LUC from conventional agricultural to biomass crops has increased in Britain but there is limited understanding of the effects on SOC stocks. Results from paired plot studies investigating site-specific effects document both increasing and decreasing SOC stocks over time. Such variation demonstrates the sensitivity of SOC to many factors including environmental conditions. Using a chronosequence of 93 biomass crop sites in England and Wales, mainly of 1–14 y age, empirical models were developed of SOC trajectory following LUC from arable and grassland to short rotation coppice (SRC) willow and Miscanthus production. SOC stocks were calculated for each site using a fixed sampling depth of 30 cm and changes were estimated by comparing with typical pre-conversion SOC stocks. Most LUCs had no demonstrable net effect on SOC stocks. An estimated net SOC loss of 45.2 ± 24.1 tonnes per hectare (±95% confidence intervals) occurred after 14 y following LUC from grassland to SRC willow. Soil texture and climate data for each site were included in multivariable models to assess the influence of different environmental conditions on SOC trajectory. In most cases the addition of explanatory variables improved the model fit. These models may provide some preliminary estimates of more region-specific changes in SOC following LUC. However, the model fit did not improve sufficiently as to provide a basis for adopting a more targeted LUC strategy for lignocellulosic biomass crop production.

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