Effect of cactus pear cultivation after Mediterranean maquis on soil carbon stock, δ13C spatial distribution and root turnover

Agata Novara, Paulo Pereira, Antonino Santoro, Yakov Kuzyakov, Tommaso La Mantia

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7 Citations (Scopus)


Mediterranean ecosystems are characterized by nearly complete replacement of natural vegetation by intensive croplands and orchards leading to strong soil degradation. Organic carbon is usually accumulated in soils under maquis leading to partial regeneration of fertility for future agricultural use. The aim of this work was to investigate the effect of land use change from maquis to agriculture on soil organic carbon (SOC) stock and its spatial distribution in a Mediterranean system. Three Mediterranean land use systems (seminatural vegetation, cactus pear crop and olive grove) were selected in Sicily and analysed for soil C stocks and their δ13C. Total SOC and δ13C were measured up to 75cm soil depth within and between the rows of cactus pear and olive grove and along a similar transect in maquis, in order to evaluate the distribution of new and old C derived from roots. The land use change from Mediterranean maquis (C3 plant) to cactus pear (CAM plant) lead to a SOC decrease of 65% after 28years of cultivation, and a further decrease for 14% after 7years after the change from cactus pear to olive grove (C3 plant). Considering these SOC losses as well as the periods after the land use changes we calculated the mean residence time (MRT) of soil organic matter. The MRT of C under Mediterranean maquis was about 142years, but was just 10years under cactus pear. Root biomass of cactus pear was used for a new approach to estimate root turnover. The root turnover rate of cactus decreased along the soil profile from 7.1% per year in 0-15cm to 3.7% in 60-75cm soil depth. Along the transect, the average of root turnover values was highest in the middle of the intra-row. Root turnover and C input were correlated with SOC stocks to evaluate C sequestration potential of soils depending on land use and managements. We conclude that the SOC under maquis is higher and has longer residence time compared to permanent agricultural crops like cactus pear and olives.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)84-90
Number of pages7
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2014



  • δC natural abundance
  • Carbon sequestration
  • Land use change
  • Root turnover
  • Soil organic matter
  • Spatial and depth distribution

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Earth-Surface Processes

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