Prairie restoration has the potential to sequester nitrogen (N) and atmospheric carbon (C) in the soil, but the capability of a site to respond positively to prairie restoration depends on numerous factors such as soil parent material, topography and time. Soil bulk density in the top 10 cm and C and N concentrations at several intervals to a depth of 1 m were measured in a tallgrass prairie topochronosequence at fine- and coarse-textured soil locations to evaluate the role of texture, slope and ecosystem age in controlling C and N sequestration following cessation of cultivation and subsequent prairie restoration. Soil C and N concentrations, contents and C:N ratios were significantly greater in fine-textured soils compared to sites with coarse-textured soil. Soil texture generally did not explain variations in the amounts or rates of C and N sequestration in the restored prairies. Soil surface bulk density was significantly correlated with slope, but not ecosystem age, at sites with coarse-textured soil. Within the limits of this study, neither slope nor ecosystem age were correlated to bulk density at sites with fine-textured soil. Soil C content in the top 25 cm increased significantly as ecosystem age increased for the restored and remnant prairies at the fine-textured location, but not at the coarse-textured location. Results demonstrate that a combination of soil parent material, topography and time since cessation of cultivation control the content and accumulation of C and N following prairie restoration. In the context of this study, the bottom line is that significant C sequestration was not achieved, given the current level and types of restoration management, within two and a half decades following conversion of cultivated cropland to prairie.
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Vol. 149 • No. 1