Soil carbon sequestration is strongly affected by soil properties, climate, and anthropogenic activities. Assessing these drivers is key to understanding the effect of land use on soil organic matter stabilization. We evaluated land use and soil depth influencing patterns of soil organic matter stabilization in three types of soil profiles located under the same pedogenetic matrix and alpine conditions but with different vegetation cover. The stock in soil organic carbon in the mean 0–20 cm layer increased from prairie (31.9 t ha−1
) to prairie in natural reforestation (42 t ha−1
) to forest (120 t ha−1
), corresponding to increments of 1.3-fold prairie, for prairie in natural reforestation, and of 3.8-fold prairie for forest. The forest showed the highest humic carbon (21.7 g kg−1
), which was 2.8 times greater than the prairie in natural reforestation and 4 times higher than the prairie. 13
C-NMR spectroscopic measurements suggested a different C pattern. The prairie in natural reforestation and the prairie were characterized by a higher content in O,N-alkyl C with respect to the forest. Alkyl C and aromatic C in the prairie in natural reforestation and prairie did not show relevant differences while they decreased with respect to the forest. Carboxyl and phenolic C groups were markedly higher in forest and prairie than prairie in natural reforestation. Alkyl C, carboxyl C, and phenolic C prevailed in the Ah horizons whereas aromatic C and O,N-alkyl C were dominant in the B horizons. Overall, the marked distribution of O,N-alkyl C and alkyl C in humic substances (HS) indicates a low degree of humification. Nevertheless, in forest, the relatively high presence of aromatic C designated HS endowed with a relatively high humification degree. Thus, our results might suggest that in the alpine environment of NE Italy differences in soil organic matter (SOM) stocks and characteristics are affected by land use and anthropic activities.
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