Natural versus urban global soil organic carbon stocks: A meta-analysis

Shih Chieh Chien, Jennifer Adams Krumins

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

20 Scopus citations


Increasingly, the human existence in urban environments is growing. In addition, anthropogenic activity has altered the global carbon (C) cycle and triggered climate change. Soil is the largest pool of organic C in terrestrial ecosystems, but its ability to retain and store C varies. As humans move forward to mitigate climate change, there is a growing need to understand the C storing capacity of soils and their interactions with factors like climate, vegetation or a footprint of human activity. Here, we constructed a meta-analysis which focused on 30 cm soil depth by collecting data from over 191 studies measuring soil organic carbon (SOC) stocks across natural, urban green space, and urban intensive habitats. We then compared the SOC data between different climatic zones, vegetation types, and anthropogenic influences with the human footprint index. The results indicate that SOC stocks in natural habitats (98.22 ± 49.10 Mg ha−1) are significantly higher than those of urban green spaces (54.61 ± 22.02 Mg ha−1) and urban intensive habitats (65.88 ± 35.27 Mg ha−1). We find a significant and negative relationship between the human footprint and SOC stocks of natural habitats but not between the human footprint and either of the urban habitats. Urban intensive and urban green space habitat soils store less C than natural ones. However, when compared across climatic zones or vegetation types, the capacity of natural soils to store C is variable and vulnerable to human activity. Carbon storage in urban soils is likely limited by persistent and stable anthropogenic influences keeping variability low. This is most pronounced in urban green spaces where human management is high (i.e. a golf course) and SOC is low. A comprehensive understanding of C storage in soils is essential to land management and climate mitigation measures.

Original languageEnglish
Article number150999
JournalScience of the Total Environment
StatePublished - 10 Feb 2022


  • Climate
  • Human footprint
  • Meta-analysis
  • Natural habitat
  • Soil organic carbon
  • Urban habitat
  • Vegetation


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