City trees and soil carbon

Edmondson, J.L., O’Sullivan, O.S., Inger, R., Potter, J., McHugh, N., Gaston, K.J. & Leake, J.R. 2014. Urban tree effects on soil organic carbon. PLoS One 9, e101872.

Urban trees sequester carbon into biomass and provide many ecosystem service benefits aboveground leading to worldwide tree planting schemes. Since soils hold ~75% of ecosystem organic carbon, understanding the effect of urban trees on soil organic carbon (SOC) and soil properties that underpin belowground ecosystem services is vital. We use an observational study to investigate effects of three important tree genera and mixed-species woodlands on soil properties (to 1 m depth) compared to adjacent urban grasslands. Aboveground biomass and belowground ecosystem service provision by urban trees are found not to be directly coupled. Indeed, SOC enhancement relative to urban grasslands is genus-specific being highest under Fraxinus excelsior and Acer spp., but similar to grasslands under Quercus robur and mixed woodland. Tree cover type does not influence soil bulk density or C:N ratio, properties which indicate the ability of soils to provide regulating ecosystem services such as nutrient cycling and flood mitigation. The trends observed in this study suggest that genus selection is important to maximise long-term SOC storage under urban trees, but emerging threats from genus-specific pathogens must also be considered.