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Inaccessible Andean sites reveal human-induced weathering in grazed soils


Heitkamp, Felix; Sylvester, Steven P; Kessler, Michael; Sylvester, Mitsy D P V; Jungkunst, Hermann F (2014). Inaccessible Andean sites reveal human-induced weathering in grazed soils. Progress in Physical Geography, 38(5):576-601.

Abstract

Human activity affects properties and development of ecosystems across the globe, to such a degree that it is now challenging to get baseline values for undisturbed ecosystems. This is especially true for soil development, which is potentially affected by land-use history and holds a legacy of past human interventions. Therefore, it is still largely unknown for most ecozones how soil would have developed ‘naturally’. Here, we show undisturbed soil development, i.e. the processes of weathering and accumulation of soil organic matter (SOM), by comparing pristine with grazed sites in the high Andes (4500 m) of southern Peru. We located study plots on a large ledge (0.2 km2) that is only accessible with mountaineering equipment. Plots with pristine vegetation were compared to rangeland plots that were presumably under relatively constant grazing management for at least four millennia. Vegetation change, induced by grazing management, led to lower vegetation cover of the soil, thereby increasing soil surface temperatures and soil acidification. Both factors increased weathering in rangeland soils. Formation of pedogenic oxides with high surface area explained preservation of SOM, with positive feedback to acidification. Higher contents of pyrophosphate extractable Fe and Al oxides indicated the importance of organo-mineral associations for SOM stabilization on rangeland sites, which are likely responsible for a higher degree of humification. This higher degree of humification induced melanization (darker colour) of the rangeland soils which, together with sparse vegetation cover, also feeds back to soil temperature. With this work, we present a conceptual framework of positive feedback links between human-induced vegetation change, soil development and accumulation of SOM, which is only possible due to the unique baseline values of a pristine ecosystem. Using ‘inaccessibility’ as a tool to quantify human impact in future interdisciplinary studies may push research forward on evaluating anthropogenic impact on Earth’s ecosystems.

Abstract

Human activity affects properties and development of ecosystems across the globe, to such a degree that it is now challenging to get baseline values for undisturbed ecosystems. This is especially true for soil development, which is potentially affected by land-use history and holds a legacy of past human interventions. Therefore, it is still largely unknown for most ecozones how soil would have developed ‘naturally’. Here, we show undisturbed soil development, i.e. the processes of weathering and accumulation of soil organic matter (SOM), by comparing pristine with grazed sites in the high Andes (4500 m) of southern Peru. We located study plots on a large ledge (0.2 km2) that is only accessible with mountaineering equipment. Plots with pristine vegetation were compared to rangeland plots that were presumably under relatively constant grazing management for at least four millennia. Vegetation change, induced by grazing management, led to lower vegetation cover of the soil, thereby increasing soil surface temperatures and soil acidification. Both factors increased weathering in rangeland soils. Formation of pedogenic oxides with high surface area explained preservation of SOM, with positive feedback to acidification. Higher contents of pyrophosphate extractable Fe and Al oxides indicated the importance of organo-mineral associations for SOM stabilization on rangeland sites, which are likely responsible for a higher degree of humification. This higher degree of humification induced melanization (darker colour) of the rangeland soils which, together with sparse vegetation cover, also feeds back to soil temperature. With this work, we present a conceptual framework of positive feedback links between human-induced vegetation change, soil development and accumulation of SOM, which is only possible due to the unique baseline values of a pristine ecosystem. Using ‘inaccessibility’ as a tool to quantify human impact in future interdisciplinary studies may push research forward on evaluating anthropogenic impact on Earth’s ecosystems.

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Additional indexing

Item Type:Journal Article, refereed, original work
Communities & Collections:07 Faculty of Science > Department of Systematic and Evolutionary Botany
Dewey Decimal Classification:580 Plants (Botany)
Language:English
Date:2014
Deposited On:19 Aug 2014 10:45
Last Modified:14 Feb 2018 21:27
Publisher:SAGE Publications
ISSN:0309-1333
OA Status:Closed
Publisher DOI:https://doi.org/10.1177/0309133314544918

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