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Justine Smith

Fall 2017

Study of Soil Carbon Levels as a Result of Forest

Management Techniques
The soil holds many important nutrients like carbon that aid in thriving biological

communities. This experiment was designed to measure how forest management techniques like

prescribed burns, thinning and harvesting would affect the amount of carbon stored in the soil. A

total of 6 areas were randomly sampled totally 18 samples per trip and placed into a muffle

furnace at roughly 500 degrees C for 48 hours. The results yielded probably no change in soil

carbon levels regardless of the forest management treatment.

Carbon levels in soil are vital to the survival and prosperity not only of the ecosystem it is

present in but also for the overall health of the Earth. Soil carbon sequestration, microorganisms,

biodiversity, decomposition along with climate change are heavily effected and dependent on the

amount of carbon stored in the soil. Soil carbon levels can be influenced by changes in

environment due to various forest management techniques including prescribed burns and


Soil carbon storage (carbon sequestration) levels are rely on the activity and state of the

plants, animals and microorganisms that live in and depend on the soil. Evidence has shown that

forest management techniques have significantly increased regenerating forests soil carbon

levels (Dixon et al., 1994). In turn a healthy forest prospers and aids in the reduction of CO2

emissions via photosynthesis (Peng et al., 2008). This process of minimizing greenhouse gases is
more prevalent and beneficial in the more mid-latitude regions where temperature levels are

higher (Dixon et al., 1994). The abundance of carbon sequestration also aids in food productivity

and an increase in yield of various crops such as maize (10 to 20 kilograms per hectacre) or

wheat (20 to 40 kilograms per hectacre) (Lal 2004). Healthy forests also require the

microorganisms that live off of carbon levels in the soil to thrive.

Microorganisms play a key role in the overall health of the ecosystem. These organisms can

process the carbon in the soil increasing the efficiency of carbon use and decreasing the carbon

emission to the atmosphere (Allison et al., 2010). The rate of carbon consumption is related to

the temperature of the environment and can be a positive feedback loop process when regarding

climate change (Allison et al., 2010). Depending on the location, temperature also plays a key

role in the survival of specific microorganisms which in turn affect the carbon processing rate

(Carney et al., 2005). Presence of certain fungi and specific bacteria due to environmental

changes may also positively change the abundance of carbon present in the soil for a short period

of time (Busse et al., 2008). Some microorganisms may prohibit or inhibit certain plant species

from sprouting.

Plant health related to the amount of nutrients present in the soil. The global carbon levels are

highly altered based on the presence or absents of these soil bound organisms (Nielsen et al.,

2011). Certain fungi species can process and break down certain compounds like cellulose which

in turn helps increase decomposition rates of carbon (Cox et al., 2001; Hanson et al., 2008).

Animals that reside in the soil have also contributed to litter fragmentation and digestion,

transportation of microorganisms, and feeding microorganisms that reside in the ground (Swift et

al., 1979; Seastedt, 1984; Ingham et al., 1985; Wardle, 2002; Bardgett, 2005; Cole et al., 2006).

As a result biodiversity can have a positive impact on soil sequestration and preservation (Diaz et
al., 2009). In the end, decomposition and climate change are also dependent on the organisms

that prosper in the area.

CO2 levels in the atmosphere as well as organic and inorganic litter decomposition are

affected by soil carbon levels. Mitigating climate change specifically relies on biodiversity that

aids in carbon sequestration, capture, and preservation (Diaz et al., 2009). Higher temperatures

would results in a higher decomposition rate causing more carbon to be released into the

atmosphere thus creating a positive feedback loop (Davidson et al., 2006). Soil carbon levels aid

in climate change and greenhouse gases thus should be explored more thoroughly.

The objective of this experiment is to measure the soil carbon levels in soil present in the

Southern New Jersey Pinelands and observe the effects of forest management techniques from

areas that have been subjected to prescribed burns, thinning, or clearcutting. With all factors

listed above it is imperative that soil carbon levels be studied more thoroughly.
Materials and Methods
This soil carbon experiment took place

on Stockton University Northeast campus

Forest, located at 101 Vera King Farris

Drive in Galloway NJ (39.4942 N,

74.5324 S). The climate in this area on

average per month is: January 33.0 C,

February 35.3 C, March 42.2 C, April

51.7 C, May 61.1 C, June 70.9 C, July

76.2 C, August 74.4 C, September 67.2

C, October 56.1 C, November 46.8 C,

and December 37.2 C (NCEI). In this

area the dominant forest is the Pinelands

with vegetation such as pond pine, loblolly

pine, oaks, and maple trees. The soils that

dominate the sampled area are AtsA,

Figure 1: Map of New Jersey, location of study marked with a black
and white star. Map of New Jersey located and taken from Google
Images. DocB, HbmB, MakAt, and MumA where

the most prevalent type of soil is an entisol (Forest Fire Research and Education,

GALLOWAY SERIES). The tested areas were recently cut in the Spring/Summer of 2015 and

was burned in November 2016 (Forest Fire Research and Education). The Stockton University

Forest Fire Research and Education partnered up with the New Jersey Department of

Environmental Protections (NJDEP) to start the Stockton Forest Management Plan (SFMP) to

perform prescribed burns in order to protect and study the effects on the local ecosystems

(Forest Fire Research and Education). There were 6 areas sampled total (control unburned,
control burned, clearcut burned, clearcut unburned, thinned burned and thinned unburned) and 3

soil samples were taken from each area, totaling 18 samples. Our group used a random number

generator to determine the amount of paces we would take into the forest. We would generate

two numbers, each for a different direction. When arriving at the location we would brush away

and debris located on the O layer and dig roughly 8 to 12 inches into the A layer using an auger.

Samples were collected in a metal tin and labeled. When returning to the lab the tins would be

weighed without the lid and placed into an incubator set at 500 C for 24 hours. After 24 hours

the samples were removed from the incubator and reweighed (without lid). The change in weight

would determine the soil moisture value. The freshly incubated sample was then crushed with a

pestle to break up and soil clumps or debris and separated into a smaller crucible. This crucible

was weighed before and after the soil addition. Again the samples were placed into an incubator

set at 500 C and incubated for 24 hours. After 24 hours the samples were reweighed and the

difference between the starting and ending weights determined the level of carbon in the soil. All

data was placed into a Microsoft Excel document and analyzed through ANOVA Single Factor

and an Error Bar Graph or SAS Enterprise for Wilcoxon-Mann Whitney and Kruskal-Wallis test.

In each statistic we used the two-tailed p-value for analysis.

Figure 2: Map of Stockton University with defined areas of study (Control, Clearcut, and burned areas) generated using ArcMap
GIS. Soil types also marked on map. Map source from Google Earth and soil types from NRCS Soil Survey.

Anova: Single Factor

Groups Count Sum Average Variance
Clearcut Burned 9 39.17093 4.352325 4.658689
Clearcut Unburned 9 37.03426 4.114917 31.36099
Thin Burned 13 37.87464 2.913434 8.851602
Thin Unburned 10 41.91214 4.191214 10.94963
Control Burned 14 43.50843 3.107745 10.11911
Control Unburned 11 64.66508 5.878643 30.56195

Source of Variation SS df MS F P-value F crit
Between Groups 66.91739 5 13.38348 0.863365 0.511063 2.36827
Within Groups 930.0912 60 15.50152

Total 997.0086 65

Figure 3: Six way ANOVA Single Factor generated using data in Microsoft Excel.

Averave Carbon Levels (%)

Clearcut Burned Clearcut Thin Burned Thin Unburned Control Burned Control
Unburned Unburned

Figure 4: Mean Carbon level in soil from clearcut burned, clearcut unburned, thin burned, thin unburned, control burned, and
control unburned areas.. Error bars represent 1 standard error from the mean. No significant difference found at p = 0.05 level.
Comparisons were made using a Protected Least Squared Difference Test.

P= 0.511063, therefore I failed to reject the null hypothesis. Data are compatible with

statistical model. Probably, there is no significant difference in soil carbon levels between all six

areas studied (Clearcut burned/unburned, thin burned/unburned and control burned/unburned).

Wilcoxon Two-Sample Test

Statistic 1082.0000

Normal Approximation

Z 0.9852

One-Sided Pr > Z 0.1623

Two-Sided Pr > |Z| 0.3245

Wilcoxon Two-Sample Test

t Approximation

One-Sided Pr > Z 0.1641

Two-Sided Pr > |Z| 0.3282

Z includes a continuity correction of 0.5.

Table 1: Wilcoxon-Mann Whitney test results generated through SAS Enterprise comparing burned vs. unburned. P=0.3245.

P=0.3245, therefore I failed to reject the null hypothesis. Data are compatible with statistical

model. Probably the soil carbon % between burned and unburned areas are the same.

Kruskal-Wallis Test

Chi-Square 7.9001

DF 5

Pr > Chi-Square 0.1618

Table 2: Kruskal-Wallis Test results generated through SAS Enterprise comparing clearcut burned/unburned, thin
burned/unburned and control burned/unburned.

P= 0.1618, therefore I failed to reject the null hypothesis. Data are compatible with statistical

model. Probably the soil carbon % between clearcut burned/unburned, thin burned/unburned and

control burned/unburned are the same.


After gathering data the first test that was performed was a 6 way ANOVA single factor, the

results show that among any of the areas studied that there were no significant differences of

carbon soil percent. To further the analysis, a Wilcoxon-Mann Whitney test between the burned

and unburned areas was conducted and showed that there is also no significant difference of soil

carbon levels. Typically there will be no changes in soil carbon levels as a result of forest
management techniques unless harvesting and cultivating is followed immediately be prescribed

fires (Johnson 1992). In this experiment harvesting took place over one year earlier than the

prescribed burns. Finally, a Kruskal-Wallis Test was conducted comparing clearcut

burned/unburned, thin burned/unburned, and control burned/unburned and the results still state

that there is no significant difference of carbon levels between each area. Changes of soil carbon

levels and soil nutrients have been measured to be much lower when 15 to 45 cm [5.9 to 17.7

inches] deep in the soil (Pennock et al., 1997). Our measured levels were around 8 to 12 inches,

which falls into the category of less significant soil nutrient levels.

This experiment experienced many shortcomings including limited time frame of 3 months,

inconsistent sampling frequency, delay of sampling after forest management techniques,

sampling too deep within the soil, and miscommunication between group members. All of these

factors added up to the results that were obtained and only allowed limited statistical tests to be



Overall comparing each area studied as well as being burned or unburned, there was probably

no significant changes of soil carbon levels present in the soil samples. This shows that forest

management techniques of harvesting, prescribed burns, and thinning probably had no effect. In

the future it can be recommended to increase the sampling timeframe from just three months to

approximately a year, or constant data collection throughout various semesters and comparing

the results from years previous. Sampling should also not be taken deep within the A horizon but

instead more toward the O horizon.

In the future a different approach to statistical analysis should take place. For the case of this

class, it was required to run an ANOVA Single Factor assuming the data is normally distributed

and performing further analysis based on those results. Under normal circumstances in SAS

Enterprise a full Proc Univariate can be ran to test for population distribution normality. If

sample was not normally distributed a transformation can be applied then re-evaluated. Once the

sample is transformed to be normal an F-Test would be performed to analyze the equality of

variances, which would determine which T-Test (equal or unequal) should be interpreted. Once

all assumptions for the ANOVA are met (normally distributed population, random sampling and

homogeneity of the variances), it can be ran and interpreted. When significant differences are

shown a Tukey Test, Student-Newman-Keuls (SNK) Test, Least Significant Difference (LSD)

Test, etc. may be ran to pinpoint where the differences lie. If the ANOVA assumptions cannot be

met then either a Levenes or Bartletts test should be performed to test the homogeneity of the

variances. In this experiment no Proc Univariate was performed and it was assumed that the

population was normally distributed and the variances were assumed to be equal.
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