Forest soils represent a substantial portion of the terrestrial carbon (C) pool, and changes to soil C cycling are globally significant not only for C sequestration but also for sustaining forest productivity and ecosystem services. To quantify the effect of harvesting on soil C, we used meta-analysis to examine a database of 945 responses to harvesting collected from 112 publications from around the world. Harvesting reduced soil C, on average, by 11.2% with 95% CI [14.1%, 8.5%]. There was substantial variation between responses in different soil depths, with greatest losses occurring in the O horizon (−30.2%). Much smaller but still significant losses (−3.3%) occurred in top soil C pools (0–15 cm depth). In very deep soil (60–100+ cm), a significant loss of 17.7% of soil C in was observed after harvest. However, only 21 of the 945 total responses examined this depth, indicating a substantial need for more research in this area. The response of soil C to harvesting varies substantially between soil orders, with greater losses in Spodosol and Ultisol orders and less substantial losses in Alfisols and Andisols. Soil C takes several decades to recover following harvest, with Spodosol and Ultisol C recovering only after at least 75 years. The publications in this analysis were highly skewed toward surface sampling, with a maximum sampling depth of 36 cm, on average. Sampling deep soil represents one of the best opportunities to reduce uncertainty in the understanding of the response of soil C to forest harvest.
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