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Journal Article

Belowground carbon dynamics in tropical perennial C4 grass agroecosystems


Sierra,  Carlos
Quantitative Ecosystem Ecology, Dr. C. Sierra, Department Biogeochemical Processes, Prof. S. E. Trumbore, Max Planck Institute for Biogeochemistry, Max Planck Society;

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Crow, S. E., Deem, L. M., Wells, J. M., & Sierra, C. (2018). Belowground carbon dynamics in tropical perennial C4 grass agroecosystems. Frontiers of Environmental Science, 6: 18. doi:10.3389/fenvs.2018.00018.

Cite as: https://hdl.handle.net/21.11116/0000-0000-FD39-4
Effective soil management is critical to achieving climate change mitigation in plant-based renewable energy systems, yet limitations exist in our understanding of dynamic belowground responses to the cultivation of energy crops. To better understand the belowground dynamics following cultivation of a grassland in a high-yielding tropical perennial C4 grass in a zero-tillage production system, changes in soil carbon (C) pools were quantified, modeled, and projected and the chemical composition of the aggregate-protected pool was determined. Multiple C pools with different ecosystem functions and turnover increased following cultivation: immediately available microbial substrate (measured as hot water-soluble C) and active C (determined through laboratory incubation) increased by 12% and 30% respectively over time and soil C accumulated significantly in multiple physical fractions. A more rapid and dynamic nature of multiple C pools and transfers between pools existed than is often assumed in belowground models used widely in the field to simulate soil C accumulation. Multiple indicators of fresh roots, including the more easily degraded lignin monomers and root-derived long chain substituted fatty acids, appeared in aggregate-protected pools of cultivated soils over time since planting. This rapid transfer of plant inputs through active and intermediate C pools into mineral-dominated pools is the ultimate outcome required for building soil C stocks. Initial model runs suggested that this is evident, even on a two-year frame, in transfer rates of 0.485 and 0.890 from active to slow and slow to passive pools respectively. The rapid transfer of fresh root-derived input to stable pool suggests that soil C under zero-tillage management may be resilient to disturbances, such as replanting following a kill-harvest, that would otherwise result in losses from unprotected or readily available pools.