Trees enhance soil carbon sequestration and nutrient cycling in a silvopastoral system in south-western Nicaragua
Journal article, Peer reviewed
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Tree occurrence in silvopastoral systems of Central America has been under pressure for various reasons including attempts to improve grassland productivity and the need for wood. However, scattered isolated trees are also recognized to provide ecosystem services like shade, fodder and fruits that are important to cattle in the dry season. In addition, trees may enhance the climate change mitigation potential of silvopastoral systems through increased carbon (C) uptake and subsequent soil carbon sequestration. Through differences in plant traits like nutrient uptake, canopy structure and litter quality, tree species may have an effect on C and nutrient cycling. Due to a prevailing north-easterly wind in the study area, three distinct areas associated with the impact of tree litter deposition were identified: (1) open pasture—no tree litter deposition; (2) tree canopy—above and belowground tree litter; and (3) leaf litter cone—aboveground tree litter deposition. Furthermore, the effect of tree species, Guazuma ulmifolia and Crescentia alata, were considered. The presence of trees, as compared to pasture, caused larger topsoil C, N and P contents. In the subsoil, C content was also larger due to tree presence. Soil fractionation showed that tree-induced larger litter input subsequently increased free and occluded OM fractions and ultimately increased stabilized SOM fractions. Therefore, trees were found to enhance soil C sequestration in these silvopastoral systems. This is also supported by the soil respiration data. Although the respiration rates in the pasture subplots were lower than in the leaf litter subplots, the difference was not significant, which suggests that part of the extra C input to the leaf litter subplots stayed in the soil. Nutrient cycling was also enhanced by tree presence, but with a clear differentiation between species. C. alata (Jı´caro) enhanced available and stabilized forms of organic N, while G. ulmifolia (Gua´cimo) enhanced available soil P and stabilized organic P.