Soil organic carbon across scales.
Mechanistic understanding of scale effects is important for interpreting the processes that control the global carbon cycle. Greater attention should be given to scale in soil organic carbon (SOC) science so that we can devise better policy to protect/enhance existing SOC stocks and ensure sustainable use of soils. Global issues such as climate change require consideration of SOC stock changes at the global and biosphere scale, but human interaction occurs at the landscape scale, with consequences at the pedon, aggregate and particle scales. This review evaluates our understanding of SOC across all these scales in the context of the processes involved in SOC cycling at each scale and with emphasis on stabilizing SOC. Current synergy between science and policy is explored at each scale to determine how well each is represented in the management of SOC. An outline of how SOC might be integrated into a framework of soil security is examined. We conclude that SOC processes at the biosphere to biome scales are not well understood. Instead, SOC has come to be viewed as a large-scale pool subjects to carbon flux. Better understanding exists for SOC processes operating at the scales of the pedon, aggregate and particle. At the landscape scale, the influence of large- and small-scale processes has the greatest interaction and is exposed to the greatest modification through agricultural management. Policy implemented at regional or national scale tends to focus at the landscape scale without due consideration of the larger scale factors controlling SOC or the impacts of policy for SOC at the smaller SOC scales. What is required is a framework that can be integrated across a continuum of scales to optimize SOC management.
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