Global patterns of the dynamics of soil carbon and nitrogen stocks following afforestation: A meta-analysis

Dejun Li, Shuli Niu, Yiqi Luo

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

476 Scopus citations


Afforestation has been proposed as an effective method of carbon (C) sequestration; however, the magnitude and direction of soil carbon accumulation following afforestation and its regulation by soil nitrogen (N) dynamics are still not well understood. • We synthesized the results from 292 sites and carried out a meta-analysis to evaluate the dynamics of soil C and N stocks following afforestation. • Changes in soil C and N stocks were significantly correlated and had a similar temporal pattern. Significant C and N stock increases were found 30 and 50yr after afforestation, respectively. Before these time points, C and N stocks were either depleted or unchanged. Carbon stock increased following afforestation on cropland and pasture, and in tropical, subtropical and boreal zones. The soil N stock increased in the subtropical zone. The soil C stock increased after afforestation with hardwoods such as Eucalyptus, but did not change after afforestation with softwoods such as pine. Soil N stocks increased and decreased, respectively, after afforestation with hardwoods (excluding Eucalyptus) and pine. • These results indicate that soil C and N stocks both increase with time after afforestation, and that C sequestration through afforestation depends on prior land use, climate and the tree species planted.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)172-181
Number of pages10
JournalNew Phytologist
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jul 2012
Externally publishedYes


  • Afforestation
  • Carbon-nitrogen interaction
  • Dynamics
  • Global pattern
  • Meta-analysis
  • Soil nitrogen
  • Soil organic carbon

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physiology
  • Plant Science


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