Soil carbon dynamics in saline and sodic soils: a review

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Wong, VNL. Greene, RSB, Dalal, RC & Murphy, BW 2010, 'Soil carbon dynamics in saline and sodic soils: a review', Soil Use Management, vol. 26, no. 1, pp. 2-11.

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Soil salinity (high levels of water-soluble salt) and sodicity (high levels of exchangeable sodium), called collectively salt-affected soils, affect approximately 932 million ha of land globally. Saline and sodic landscapes are subjected to modified hydrologic processes which can impact upon soil chemistry, carbon and nutrient cycling, and organic matter decomposition. The soil organic carbon (SOC) pool is the largest terrestrial carbon pool, with the level of SOC an important measure of a soil’s health. Because the SOC pool is dependent on inputs from vegetation, the effects of salinity and sodicity on plant health adversely impacts upon SOC stocks in salt-affected areas, generally leading to less SOC. Saline and sodic soils are subjected to a number of opposing processes which affect the soil microbial biomass and microbial activity, changing CO2 fluxes and the nature and delivery of nutrients to vegetation. Sodic soils compound SOC loss by increasing dispersion of aggregates, which increases SOC mineralisation, and increasing bulk density which restricts access to substrate for mineralisation. Saline conditions can increase the decomposability of soil organic matter but also restrict access to substrates due to flocculation of aggregates as a result of high concentrations of soluble salts. Saline and sodic soils usually contain carbonates, which complicates the carbon (C) dynamics. This paper reviews soil processes that commonly occur in saline and sodic soils, and their effect on C stocks and fluxes to identify the key issues involved in the decomposition of soil organic matter and soil aggregation processes which need to be addressed to fully understand C dynamics in salt-affected soils.