Accurate field measurements from inventories across fine spatial scales are critical to improve sampling designs and to increase the precision of forest carbon cycling modeling. By studying soils undisturbed from active forest management, this paper gives a unique insight in the naturally occurring variability of organic layer C and provides valuable references against which subsequent and future sampling schemes can be evaluated. We found that the organic layer C stocks displayed great short-range variability with spatial autocorrelation distances ranging from 0.86 up to 2.85 m. When spatial autocorrelations are known, we show that a minimum of 20 inventory samples separated by ∼5 m is needed to determine the organic layer C stock with a precision of ±0.5 kg C m−2. Our data also demonstrates a strong relationship between the organic layer C stock and horizon thickness (R 2 ranging from 0.58 to 0.82). This relationship suggests that relatively inexpensive measurements of horizon thickness can supplement soil C sampling, by reducing the number of soil samples collected, or to enhance the spatial resolution of organic layer C mapping.
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