Soil carbon sequestration benefits of active versus natural restoration vary with initial carbon content and soil layer

Reducing terrestrial carbon emissions is a big challenge for human societies. Ecosystem restoration is predominant to reverse land degradation and carbon loss. Though active restoration of croplands is assumed to increase carbon sequestration more than natural regeneration, it still lacks the robust paired comparisons between them. Here we performed a large-scale paired comparison of active versus natural restoration effects on soil carbon sequestration across China. We found that two restoration strategies consistently enhanced soil carbon relative to croplands, however, the benefits of active restoration versus natural regeneration were highly context-dependent. Active restoration only sequestered more carbon in carbon-poor soils but less carbon in carbon-rich soils than natural regeneration. Moreover, active restoration fixed greater carbon in topsoil but less carbon in subsoil. Overall, these findings highlight landscape context-dependent application of active restoration and natural regeneration, further guiding the efficient management of limited resources to maximize the restoration benefits of carbon sequestration.
© The Author(s) 2023. This article is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, which permits use, sharing, adaptation, distribution and reproduction in any medium or format, as long as you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons license, and indicate if changes were made. The images or other third party material in this article are included in the article’s Creative Commons license, unless indicated otherwise in a credit line to the material. If material is not included in the article’s Creative Commons license and your intended use is not permitted by statutory regulation or exceeds the permitted use, you will need to obtain permission directly from the copyright holder. To view a copy of this license, visit The Version of Scholarly Record of this Article is published in Communications Earth & Environment, 2023, available online at: . Keywords: ecosystem ecology; restoration ecology.
Tian, D., Xiang, Y., Seabloom, E. et al. Soil carbon sequestration benefits of active versus natural restoration vary with initial carbon content and soil layer. Commun Earth Environ 4, 83 (2023).