Skip to main content
SLU publication database (SLUpub)
Research article - Peer-reviewed, 2024

Soil carbon and nitrogen contents in forest soils are related to soil texture in interaction with pH and metal cations

Spohn, Marie; Stendahl, Johan


The aim of this study was to better understand how soil carbon (C) and nitrogen (N) contents and the C:N ratio are related to soil texture, pH, and exchangeable aluminum and calcium in forest soils.For this purpose, we studied 1992 temperate and boreal forest soils located all over Sweden. We measured organic C and N as well exchangeable aluminum, calcium, and pH in the organic layer and three depth increments in the mineral soil (down to 65 cm), and analyzed the relationship between element contents, soil texture, and soil pH as well as their interactions.Soil C concentration and the C:N ratio were negatively related to soil pH. The C concentration was on average 2.6 times higher in very acidic soils (pH < 4.0) than in soils with pH > 5.0, in the uppermost 10 cm of the mineral soil. In contrast, N varied much less with pH, particularly in the organic layer, but was related to soil texture. The N concentration was 2.3 times higher in clayey and fine silty soils than in sandy soils, while the C concentration was only 1.85 times higher in clayey and fine silty soils than in sandy soils (in the uppermost 10 cm). Differences in C and N concentrations between clayey and fine silty soils compared to sandy soils were largest in the class of soils with pH > 5.0 and smallest in the class of soils with pH <= 4.0. Furthermore, C and N concentrations were both positively correlated with the concentration of exchangeable aluminum in the mineral soil, and these correlations were stronger in coarse-textured than in fine-textured soils. In addition, the C concentration was positively correlated with the concentration of exchangeable calcium in the organic layer.In conclusion, our results show that C concentration varied much more strongly with pH than N concentration, likely due to effects of pH on microbial respiration. The N concentration was more strongly related to soil texture than the C concentration, which is very likely due to the high charge density of organic N, which gives organic N a high affinity to adsorb to mineral surfaces. Furthermore, exchangeable aluminum seems to play an important role in the sorptive stabilization of organic matter in the mineral soil.


Soil organic carbon; Soil nitrogen; C:N ratio; Mineral-associated organic matter; Soil pH; Charge density; Aluminum; Calcium

Published in

2024, Volume: 441, article number: 116746
Publisher: ELSEVIER