Cultivation, overgrazing, and overharvesting are seriously degrading forest and grassland ecosystems in the Taurus Mountains of the southern Mediterranean region of Turkey. This study investigated the effects of changes on soil organic carbon (SOC) content and other physical soil properties over a 12-year period in three adjacent ecosystems in a Mediterranean plateau. The ecosystems were cropland (converted from grasslands in 1990), open forest, and grassland. Soil samples from two depths, 0-10 and 10-20cm, were collected for chemical and physical analyses at each of cropland, open forest, and grassland ecosystems. SOC pools at the 0-20 cm depth of cropland, forest, and grassland ecosystems were estimated at 32,636, 56,480, and 57,317 kg ha(-1), respectively. Conversion of grassland into cropland during the 12-year period increased the bulk density by 10.5% and soil erodibility by 46.2%; it decreased SOM by 48.8%, SOC content by 43%, available water capacity (AWC) by 30.5%, and total porosity by 9.1% for the 0-20 cm soil depth (p < 0.001). The correlation matrix revealed that SOC content was positively correlated with AWC, total porosity, mean weight diameter (MWD), forest, and grassland, and negatively with bulk density, pH, soil erodibility factor, and cropland. The multiple regression (MLR) models indicated that any two of the three ecosystems and one of the two soil depths accounted for 86.5% of variation in mean SOC values ((P<0.001). (C) 2004 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.