Spatially governed climate factors dominate management in determining the quantity and distribution of soil organic carbon in dryland agricultural systems

Frances Hoyle, Rebecca O' Leary, Daniel Murphy

Scientific Reports



Few studies describe the primary drivers influencing soil organic carbon (SOC) stocks and the distribution of carbon (C) fractions in agricultural systems from semi-arid regions; yet these soils comprise one fifth of the global land area. Here we identified the primary drivers for changes in total SOC and associated particulate (POC), humus (HOC) and resistant (ROC) organic C fractions for 1347 sample points in the semi-arid agricultural region of Western Australia. Total SOC stock (0–0.3 m) varied from 4 to 209 t C ha−1 with 79% of variation explained by measured variables. The proportion of C in POC, HOC and ROC fractions averaged 28%, 45% and 27% respectively. Climate (43%) and land management practices (32%) had the largest relative influence on variation in total SOC. Carbon accumulation was constrained where average daily temperature was above 17.2 °C and annual rainfall below 450 mm, representing approximately 42% of the 197,300 km2 agricultural region. As such large proportions of this region are not suited to C sequestration strategies. For the remainder of the region a strong influence of management practices on SOC indicate opportunities for C sequestration strategies associated with incorporation of longer pasture phases and adequate fertilisation.