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Journal of Arid Environment






Academic Press

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Vegetation changes associated with climate shifts and anthropogenic disturbance can have major impacts on biogeochemical cycling and soils. Much of the Great Basin, U.S. is currently dominated by sagebrush (Artemisia tridentate (Rydb.) Boivin) ecosystems. Sagebrush ecosystems are increasingly influenced by pinyon (Pinus monophylla Torr. & Frém and Pinus edulis Engelm.) and juniper (Juniperus osteosperma Torr. and Juniperus occidentalis Hook.) expansion. Some scientists and policy makers believe that increasing woodland cover in the intermountain western U.S. offers the possibility of increased organic carbon (OC) storage on the landscape; however, little is currently known about the distribution of OC on these landscapes, or the role that nitrogen (N) plays in OC retention. We quantified the relationship between tree cover, belowground OC, and total below ground N in expansion woodlands at 13 sites in Utah, Oregon, Idaho, California, and Nevada, USA. One hundred and twenty nine soil cores were taken using a mechanically driven diamond tipped core drill to a depth of 90 cm. Soil, coarse fragments, and coarse roots were analyzed for OC and total N. Woodland expansion influenced the vertical distribution of root OC by increasing 15–30 cm root OC by 2.6 Mg ha−1 and root N by 0.04 Mg ha−1. Root OC and N increased through the entire profile by 3.8 and 0.06 Mg ha−1 respectively. Woodland expansion influenced the vertical distribution of soil OC by increasing surface soil (0–15 cm) OC by 2.2 Mg ha−1. Woodland expansion also caused a 1.3 Mg ha−1 decrease in coarse fragment associated OC from 75–90 cm. Our data suggests that woodland expansion into sagebrush ecosystems has limited potential to store additional belowground OC, and must be weighed against the risk of increased wildfire and exotic grass invasion.