Land use affects soil organic carbon of paddy soils: empirical evidence from 6280 years BP to present

Jin Zhang, Minyan Wang, Shengchun Wu, Karin Müller, Yucheng Cao, Peng Liang, Zhihong Cao, Anna Oi Wah LEUNG, Peter Christie, Hailong Wang*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articlepeer-review

12 Citations (Scopus)


Purpose: Submerged rice cultivation has been practiced in China for 7000 years. Empirical evidence on changes of soil organic carbon (SOC) contents in paddy soils over this historical time period is scarce. Therefore, a field study was conducted to investigate the effect of submerged rice cultivation on the accumulation and preservation of SOC in paddies. Materials and methods: Two buried ancient paddy profiles (6280 years BP, named P-01 and P-03) in the Yangtze Delta of eastern China were excavated to illustrate the development of SOC contents in soils during the evolution of paddies under anthropogenic land use and environmental changes from the prehistoric period to the present time. Trends in SOC concentrations, total nitrogen concentrations, and stable carbon isotope ratio were identified for different points in time. Results and discussion: Accumulation of organic carbon was found in the paddy soil layers of P-01 at 100–174 cm depth. This site was taken under submerged rice cultivation in about 6280 years BP. The average SOC concentration in the prehistoric paddy topsoil in 100–130 cm depth was 1.27 %, which is seven times higher than that in the adjacent uncultivated land at 103–130 cm depth of P-03. This implies that the paddy soil has experienced substantial CO2 sequestration under submerged management during that time. By about 3320 years BP, organic carbon contents were halved, potentially due to marine inundation by sea level rise. Up to the year 2003, the SOC contents in all horizons in the present time paddy soil have increased, especially in the surface layer, indicative of continuous rice cultivation. However, due to rapid urbanization and industrialization, the cultivation of paddies in eastern China has gradually been discontinued leading to the loss of SOC stocks of approximately 10 % in a 6-year interval (from 2003 to 2009). A significant relationship between SOC and rice phytolith contents was found in the paddy soil horizons of P-01 (r = 0.71, p < 0.01) and P-03 (r = 0.72, p < 0.01), suggesting that phytolith-occluded organic carbon could be used as a biomarker to ascertain the development of SOC in the evolution of rice paddies over the past 6000 years. Conclusions: Submerged rice cultivation led to a noticeable accumulation of SOC in paddies. Phytolith-occluded organic carbon could be used as a biomarker to monitor changes of OC contents in paddy soils.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)767-776
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Soils and Sediments
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 1 Mar 2016

Scopus Subject Areas

  • Earth-Surface Processes
  • Stratigraphy

User-Defined Keywords

  • Buried soil
  • Land use change
  • Phytolith-occluded organic carbon
  • Stable C isotope ratio
  • Urbanization


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