Soil carbon cycling and storage along a chronosequence of re-seeded grasslands: Do soil carbon stocks increase with grassland age?

R. Carolan*, D.A. Fornara*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

22 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

Agricultural grasslands comprise over 50% of the total land area of the UK and provide important ecosystem services that include livestock and forage production. These services are rarely measured against the effects that key management practices might have on the long-term ability of grassland soils to cycle and store carbon (C). The common management practice of re-seeding (i.e. the ploughing and seeding of grasslands with more productive grass cultivars) can cause significant soil disturbance; yet the net long-term effects of re-seeding on soil C gains and losses in permanent grasslands are poorly understood. Here, we selected a chronosequence of 45 permanent grasslands across Northern Ireland with a well-documented history of single re-seeding events over the last 50 years. Second, we asked whether and how soil C cycling and storage might differ between recently re-seeded ‘young’ grasslands and increasingly ‘older’ (or never re-seeded) grasslands. We measured (1) soil CO2 fluxes, (2) soil C stocks, (3) the C content of different soil aggregate fractions, and (4) root C stocks. We found that soil CO2 fluxes were significantly higher in recently re-seeded, ‘young’, grasslands. However, total soil C stocks (0–20 cm depth) did not increase in ‘older’ grasslands despite these grasslands showing greater root C stocks. Instead, soil C stocks significantly decreased with increases in soil bulk density. Higher soil bulk density was also associated with lower C content in smaller organo-mineral aggregate sizes (i.e. more recalcitrant C pools) regardless of grassland age (time since re-seeding). Overall, our results suggest that management-induced effects on key soil physical properties, i.e. bulk density, may have significantly greater implications for C sequestration in permanent grassland soils than high disturbance, but infrequent, re-seeding events.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)126-132
JournalAgriculture, Ecosystems and Environment
Volume218
DOIs
Publication statusPrint publication - 15 Feb 2016
Externally publishedYes

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