Land use change in the Ecuadorian páramo: The impact of expanding agriculture on soil carbon storage

Jennifer B. Thompson, Leo Zurita-Arthos, Felix Müller, Segundo Chimbolema, Esteban Suárez

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

11 Scopus citations


The Andean páramo is notable for high soil carbon storage and its contribution to ecosystem services. However, the páramo’s ability to maintain high soil carbon levels is threatened by land use change from tussock grassland and shrublands to agricultural uses. A chronosequence study was conducted in the páramo around Quito, Ecuador, to determine the rate of soil carbon loss from traditional fallow agriculture. In parallel, a land use and land cover classification of Landsat images was used to measure the change in agricultural areas between 1991 and 2017. There was a significant negative relationship between the time since initial cultivation of a field and soil C: Older agricultural sites had significantly less C compared to natural ecosystems due to an average loss of 0.045 percent soil C per year. Undisturbed sites had significantly more soil C than cultivated sites but not pastures or fallow fields, indicating that cultivation is the most detrimental stage of the fallow agricultural cycle for soil C storage. There was an 838 percent increase in cultivated land between 1991 and 2017 but a 10 percent decrease in pastures, indicating a trend away from traditional regenerative agriculture toward land use types that lead to substantial losses in soil carbon.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)48-59
Number of pages12
JournalArctic, Antarctic, and Alpine Research
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2021


  • Andes
  • Andosols
  • ecosystem services
  • fallow agriculture


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