Changes in soil organic carbon under perennial crops

Alicia Ledo* (Corresponding Author), Pete Smith, Ayalsew Zerihun, Jeanette Whitaker, José Luis Vicente-Vicente, Zhangcai Qin, Niall P. McNamara, Yuri L Zinn, Mireia Llorente, Mark Liebig, Matthias Kuhnert, Marta Dondini, Axel Don, Eugenio Diaz-Pines, Ashim Datta, Haakon Bakka, Eduardo Aguilera, Jon Hillier

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

100 Citations (Scopus)
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This study evaluates the dynamics of soil organic carbon (SOC) under perennial crops across the globe. It quantifies the effect of change from annual to perennial crops and the subsequent temporal changes in SOC stocks during the perennial crop cycle. It also presents an empirical model to estimate changes in the SOC content under crops as a function of time, land use, and site characteristics. We used a harmonized global dataset containing paired‐comparison empirical values of SOC and different types of perennial crops (perennial grasses, palms, and woody plants) with different end uses: bioenergy, food, other bio‐products, and short rotation coppice. Salient outcomes include: a 20‐year period encompassing a change from annual to perennial crops led to an average 20% increase in SOC at 0–30 cm (6.0 ± 4.6 Mg/ha gain) and a total 10% increase over the 0–100 cm soil profile (5.7 ± 10.9 Mg/ha). A change from natural pasture to perennial crop decreased SOC stocks by 1% over 0–30 cm (−2.5 ± 4.2 Mg/ha) and 10% over 0–100 cm (−13.6 ± 8.9 Mg/ha). The effect of a land use change from forest to perennial crops did not show significant impacts, probably due to the limited number of plots; but the data indicated that while a 2% increase in SOC was observed at 0–30 cm (16.81 ± 55.1 Mg/ha), a decrease in 24% was observed at 30–100 cm (−40.1 ± 16.8 Mg/ha). Perennial crops generally accumulate SOC through time, especially woody crops; and temperature was the main driver explaining differences in SOC dynamics, followed by crop age, soil bulk density, clay content, and depth. We present empirical evidence showing that the FAO perennialization strategy is reasonable, underscoring the role of perennial crops as a useful component of climate change mitigation strategies.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)4158-4168
Number of pages11
JournalGlobal Change Biology
Issue number7
Early online date15 May 2020
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2020

Bibliographical note

Open Access via the Wiley Jisc Agreement

European Commission (GrantNumber(s): 774378, 862695)
Natural Environment Research Council (GrantNumber(s): NE/M016900/1, NE/M021327/1, NE/N017854/1, NE/P019455/1)


  • agriculture
  • arable crops
  • carbon crops
  • carbon balance
  • emission factors
  • fruit crops
  • land use change
  • meta-analysis
  • woody crops
  • FOOD


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