A Three-Dimensional Assessment of Soil δ13C in a Subtropical Savanna: Implications for Vegetation Change and Soil Carbon Dynamics Academic Article uri icon


  • Tree/shrub encroachment into drylands is a geographically widespread vegetation change that often modifies soil organic carbon (SOC) storage and dynamics, and represents an important yet uncertain aspect of the global carbon (C) cycle. We quantified spatial patterns of soil δ13C to 1.2 m depth in a subtropical savanna to evaluate the magnitude and timing of woody encroachment, and its impacts on SOC dynamics. Woody encroachment dramatically altered soil δ13C spatial patterns throughout the profile; values were lowest in the interiors of woody patches, increased towards the peripheries of those patches, and reached highest values in the surrounding grasslands. Soil δ13C and 14C revealed this landscape was once dominated by C4 grasses. However, a rapid vegetation change occurred during the past 100–200 years, characterized by (1) the formation and expansion of woody patches across this landscape, and (2) increased C3 forb abundance within remnant grasslands. Tree/shrub encroachment has substantially increased SOC and the proportion of new SOC derived from C3 plants in the SOC pool. These findings support the emerging perspective that vegetation in many dryland ecosystems is undergoing dramatic and rapid increases in SOC storage, with implications for the C cycle at regional and global scales.

published proceedings

  • Soil Systems

altmetric score

  • 2.35

author list (cited authors)

  • Zhou, Y., Boutton, T. W., & Wu, X. B.

citation count

  • 1

complete list of authors

  • Zhou, Yong||Boutton, Thomas W||Wu, X Ben

publication date

  • November 2019