Natural Resources, School of


Date of this Version



Catena 226 (2023) 107062.


Open access.


Mediterranean mountains are sensitive agroecosystems that have suffered intense land use and land cover changes (LULCC) during the last century. From the middle of the twentieth century, most of the cultivated lands in Mediterranean mountains were abandoned, allowing the recovery of vegetation (through natural revegetation and afforestation programmes). To examine the effects of farmland abandonment, secondary succession (natural revegetation) and afforestation, an intensive soil sampling was carried out in the Aragu´as catchment (Central Spanish Pyrenees) including sparsely vegetated areas (badlands), grasslands, shrublands and afforested sites. LULCC were mapped, and soil physico-chemical properties were analysed in reference sites (unaltered areas during the last centuries) and in the different land uses. Likewise, the soil organic carbon (SOC) content in the bulk soils and in the fractions separated by density fractionation have been studied. This study evidenced that farmland abandonment led to a mosaic landscape with different land use and land covers. Results show that LULCC significantly affect soil physico-chemical properties (soil texture, stoniness, pH, SOC, total carbon, CorgN ratio, bulk density and field capacity). Significant differences were observed between secondary and afforested sites following farmland abandonment. Afforestation triggered higher SOC than shrubland sites (natural revegetation) (1.4 and 1.1% respectively), suggesting a slower process of organic matter accumulation after farmland abandonment in the natural revegetation compared to afforestation. The significant role of grassland sites for enhancing the accumulation of SOC has been also confirmed. The results showed also significant differences in the relative contribution of each organic fraction to the bulk SOC: the amount of labile fraction (free and occluded labile fractions) is significantly higher in afforested and shrubland sites (58.1 and 51.2% respectively) than in grassland sites (36.8%). Understanding the effects of LULCC on soil properties and SOC dynamics is essential when planning post-land management practices after farmland abandonment.