Implications of land-use change to Short Rotation Forestry in Great Britain for soil and biomass carbon

Aidan M. Keith, Rebecca L. Rowe, Kim Parmar, Mike P. Perks, Ewan Mackie, Marta Dondini, Niall P. McNamara

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Land-use change can have significant impacts on soil and aboveground carbon (C) stocks and there is a clear need to identify sustainable land uses which maximize C mitigation potential. Land-use transitions from agricultural to bioenergy crops are increasingly common in Europe with one option being Short Rotation Forestry (SRF). Research on the impact on C stocks of the establishment of SRF is limited, but given the potential for this bioenergy crop in temperate climates, there is an evident knowledge gap. Here, we examine changes in soil C stock following the establishment of SRF using combined short (30 cm depth) and deep (1 m depth) soil cores at 11 sites representing 29 transitions from agriculture to SRF. We compare the effects of tree species including 9 coniferous, 16 broadleaved and 4 Eucalyptus transitions. SRF aboveground and root biomass were also estimated in 15 of the transitions using tree mensuration data allowing assessments of changes in total ecosystem C stock. Planting coniferous SRF, compared to broadleaved and Eucalyptus SRF, resulted in greater accumulation of litter and overall increased soil C stock relative to agricultural controls. Though broadleaved SRF had no overall effect on soil C stock, it showed the most variable response suggesting species-specific effects and interactions with soil types. While Eucalyptus transitions induced a reduction in soil C stocks, this was not significant unless considered on a soil mass basis. Given the relatively young age and limited number of Eucalyptus plantations, it is not possible to say whether this reduction will persist in older stands. Combining estimates of C stocks from different ecosystem components (e.g., soil, aboveground biomass) reinforced the accumulation of C under coniferous SRF, and indicates generally positive effects of SRF on whole-ecosystem C. These results fill an important knowledge gap and provide data for modelling of future scenarios of LUC.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)541–552
Number of pages12
JournalGlobal Change Biology. Bioenergy
Issue number3
Early online date2 May 2014
Publication statusPublished - May 2015


  • afforestation
  • bioenergy
  • coniferous
  • deciduous
  • eucalypt
  • land use
  • organic carbon
  • SRF


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