Aims Increasing sequestration of soil organic carbon with forest succession plays a significant role in reducing global warming. However, the relationship between structure of soil carbon pools and vegetation carbon inputs is still uncertain. Our objective was to examine how structure of the soil carbon pool changes with vegetation carbon return through litterfall, forest floor and fine roots during secondary succession in evergreen broad-leaved forests.
Methods The study site is located in Tiantong National Forest Park (29°52′ N, 121°39′ E), Zhejiang Province, in Eastern China. Three successional stages (i.e., early, middle and late stages) were selected to examine contents and stocks for carbon pools for each of total soil organic carbon (TOC), mineralization carbon (MC), dissolved organic carbon (DOC) and microbial biomass carbon (MBC). The amounts of vegetation carbon return through each of the litterfall, forest floor and fine roots were determined. Then relationships between carbon pool stocks and amount of vegetation carbon return were determined by using both Pearson correlation and stepwise regression approaches.
Important findings Along the forest successional series, contents of TOC, MC, DOC and MBC increased significantly (p < 0.05). Stocks of TOC also increased through forest succession (p < 0.05), but the other three active organic carbon stocks were highest in middle-, intermediate in late- and lowest in early-successional stages. The amounts of annual biomass and carbon stocks increased for litterfall, but decreased for forest floor, and fine roots annual returned mass and carbon stocks were highest in middle-, intermediate in late- and lowest in early-successional stages (p < 0.05). Among three active organic carbon pools, MC explained 34.01% variation in TOC (R2 = 0.388, p < 0.05). With respect to vegetation carbon return, returned biomass of fine roots explained 28.2%, 50.0%, 73.4% and 68.8% of total variation for TOC, MC, DOC and MBC, respectively. In conclusion, stocks of TOC and three active organic carbon pools elevate gradually with secondary forest succession in the study area. During this process, the accumulation of fine roots and the enhancement of mineralization carbon pool are mainly responsible for soil carbon sequestration.