Soil Carbon, Grazing & Cropping Grasslands of Alberta, Canada

114 site study.

Grazing:

  • Grazing increased plant diversity
  • Grazing increased introduced species in higher rainfall (>350mm May – Sept) areas
  • Grazing increased aboveground biomass productivity in high rainfall areas, decreased it in lower rainfall areas.
  • Grazing saw no change in SOC in the 6 study regions.
  • Grazing increased root growth in the top 30cm of soil in high rainfall areas.
  • Grazing increased decomposition of plant litter in high rainfall areas.
  • Grazing lowers CO2/N20 flux.
  • Rotational grazing (High intensity, low frequency) significantly lowered CH4 production.
  • Native grasslands store most carbon.

Conclusion: Rotational grazing native grasslands in high rainfall areas FTW.

Cropping:

root mass.png

  • Perennial grasslands produce higher below ground biomass than above
  • Cultivation leads to a rapid loss 30-60% of soil C
  • Continuous wheat cropping led to 19% loss of C
  • Cropping saw 30-40% C loss after 5 years.
  • Silvopasture (perennial pasture system) produced least CO2
  • Naturally re-vegetated areas failed to recover even after 50 years.

Conclusion: Silvopasture intercropping FTW.

Basically what Colin Seis does with Pasture Cropping native grasses.

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Residue Amendment and Soil Carbon Priming for Richer or Poorer

Feed the microbes carbon in C-poor soil and they’ll have a party.
Feed the microbes carbon in C-rich soil and they’ll put it in the C-bank.
This quote is of particular interest, emphasis mine:

The shift of bacterial community composition in response to residue amendment contributes to the sequestration of residue-C in SOC fractions.

Predator-prey carbon sequestration? Sounds similar to the Arthropod predator results. May the shift be with you.

The study:

A 150-day incubation experiment was conducted with 13C-labelled soybean residue (4%) amended into two Mollisols differing in SOC (SOC-poor and SOC-rich soils). …

The amounts of residue-C incorporated into the coarse particulate organic C (POC), fine POC and mineral-associated C (MOC) fractions were 4.5-, 4.3– and 2.4-fold higher in the SOC-rich soil than in the SOC-poor soil, respectively.

Residue amendment led to negative SOC priming before Day 50 but positive priming thereafter.

The primed CO2 per unit of native SOC was greater in the SOC-poor soil than in the SOC-rich soil. This indicates that the contributions of residue-C to the POC and MOC fractions were greater in the SOC-rich soil while residue amendment had stronger priming effect in the SOC-poor soil, stimulating the C exchange rate between fresh and native SOC.

The shift of bacterial community composition in response to residue amendment contributes to the sequestration of residue-C in SOC fractions.

The fate of soybean residue-carbon links to changes of bacterial community composition in Mollisols differing in soil organic carbon

Arthropod Predator Community & Soil Carbon Sequestration

The composition of the arthropod predator community and associated cascading effects on the plant community explained 41% of variation in soil C retention among 15 old-fields across a human land use gradient. We also evaluated the potential for several other candidate factors to explain variation in soil C retention among fields, independent of among-field variation in the predator community. These included live plant biomass, insect herbivore community composition, soil arthropod decomposer community composition, degree of land use development around the fields, field age, and soil texture. None of these candidate variables significantly explained soil C retention among the fields. The study offers a generalizable understanding of the pathways through which arthropod predator community composition can contribute to old-field ecosystem carbon storage.

Predator community composition is linked to soil carbon retention across a human land use gradient. – PubMed – NCBI

Cover Crops May Increase Soil Microbial Biomass 3x More Than Compost

Three to six times more microbial biomass carbon and nitrogen depending on soil type.

These results provide evidence that carbon (C) inputs from frequent cover cropping are the primary driver of changes in the soil food web and soil health in high-input, tillage-intensive organic vegetable production systems.

Fresh is best.

Cover cropping frequency is the main driver of soil microbial changes during six years of organic vegetable production

Microbial communities affected by type of carbon “food” sources

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A new study has found that:

The type of carbon source affects not only the composition and activity of natural microbial communities, but also in turn the types of mineral products that form in their environment.

“We’ve illustrated that as microorganisms alter their environment, their environment then affects the type of microorganisms that are there and their activity.”

Researchers took anaerobic respiration microbial communities and presented them with one of three carbon sources: glucose, a six-carbon sugar; lactate, a four-carbon compound; or acetate, a simple two-carbon compound.

Their analysis showed that a distinct series of changes occurred consistently when microbes were exposed to lactate or acetate-rich environments. However, in glucose-rich environments, they observed varying patterns of changes.

“We think that, because glucose is a larger, more complex compound that can be broken down into many simpler compounds, this opens up more chemical pathways in the community through which it can be used, and that this diverse metabolic potential accounts for the different patterns we’re seeing,” said O’Loughlin.

Impact of Organic Carbon Electron Donors on Microbial Community Development under Iron- and Sulfate-Reducing Conditions

Coastal wetlands excel at storing carbon

coastal wetlands.jpg

“Coastal wetlands store a lot of carbon in their soils and are important long-term natural carbon sinks, while kelp, corals and marine fauna are not.”

Coastal wetlands outperformed other marine systems in just about every measure. For example, the researchers estimated that mangrove forests alone capture and store as much as 34 million metric tons of carbon annually, which is roughly equivalent to the carbon emitted by 26 million passenger cars in a year. Estimates for tidal marshes and seagrass meadows vary, because these ecosystems are not as well mapped globally, but the total for each could exceed 80 million metric tons per year.

All told, coastal wetlands may capture and store more than 200 metric tons of carbon per year globally. Importantly, these ecosystems store 50-90 percent of this carbon in soils, where it can stay for thousands of years if left undisturbed.

“When we destroy coastal wetlands, for coastal development or aquaculture, we turn these impressive natural carbon sinks into additional, significant human-caused greenhouse gas sources.”

Coastal wetlands excel at storing carbon

Clarifying the role of coastal and marine systems in climate mitigation – Howard – 2017 – Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment

Biochar to Terra Preta aka “Black Soil”

Wikipedia tells us Terra Preta is said to have a minimum proportion of 2.0-2.5% organic matter at 50cm depth as the photo below of field-based Terra Preta indicates.

Since most naturally occurring fertile soil becomes anaerobic at about this depth 60cm (2 feet), I wanted to try and emulate Terra Preta levels down to that depth.

It’s important to note that as opposed to field sites, Terra Preta amongst village areas appears much deeper and laden with clay pottery shards that may have originally been buried humanure waste vessels.

terra preta 60cm.jpg

My aim is then 60cm (2 feet) of at least 2.5% biochar.

I have created my back of the envelope calculations based on a soil that has an existing 0.5% in the top 10cm, and I’m using the cheapest charcoal available locally which happens to be this lump charcoal.

I’ve also calculated the lump charcoal bulk density and estimated it’s skeletal density and plugged that information into my biochar spreadsheet.

lump-charcoal-10kg

What I calculated is that to achieve an average of 2.5% organic carbon in that 60cm profile requires approximately three 29 litre boxes of this 10kg lump charcoal in raw form per square meter, or 9.5kg when micronised.

Biochar2TerraPreta.png

Notice the 8% carbon target in the top 10cm in my spreadsheet. Each subsequent 10cm layer is a linear halving of this that when all added up results in 15% total organic carbon distributed through the soil profile. When averaged over the 6 layers this results in the magical 2.5% that Terra Preta is said to have at 50cm.

As I’ve previously written, that 8% is similar to the amounts in biochar field trials that achieve highest yields. While the 2.5-3.0% appears to be the tipping point where plants are sequestering the most amount of carbon into the soil.

There’s your reason Terra Preta is so productive.

Add 15% or 9.5kg of the above micronised charcoal per square meter into the top soil, and you’re gold. Less if your charcoal has a higher bulk density. Over time and under continuous cropping without fallow land the plants roots and microbes in the subsoil will build the soil down two foot, and probably at an accelerated rate in the tropics and high rainfall zones. At over 8% the ecosystem begins to dissolve that carbon and leach it deeper into the soil profile building the soil from top down.

This may be how Terra Preta is said to grow back after mining the top soil and leaving 20cm of it to regrow at pace in the tropics, especially if the micronised charcoal is well mixed with the soil profile.

Mixing that 15% evenly into the two feet for an average of 2.5% carbon, the point where plants then sequester the most soil carbon and build soil, may be another, potentially slower option. The plants will have to build it up to 8% in the top soil for most productivity, at which point dissolved organic carbon is increased and begins to leach through the profile finding an equilibrium.

At a bare minimum to get an existing 0.5% SOC soil to a 2.5% in the topsoil and a 4% total SOC, then about 2.5kg micronised charcoal is needed, or 8.3kg of the above lump charcoal. 2.5kg when micronised.

Biochar2TerraPretaMinimum.png

This is all speculation on my part from my learnings.

And please note: I am yet to implement decreasing air and water volume as the depth increases into the model so take what I’ve written with a grain of biochar.

Native forest soils also tend to decline in a more non-linear manner compared to the linear grasslands when it comes the to soil carbon soil profile used in my model, so the choice of crops may affect the building of soil and the maximising of photosynthesis for a given area.

And remember that because the charcoal is pyrolyzed it is longer lasting in the soil, whereas carbon sequestered by plants tends to oxidise, why we may not see this natural process occurring in all high carbon soils.

End Over Out.