Greater soil carbon stocks and faster turnover rates with increasing agricultural productivity
- 1Agriculture & Food, CSIRO, PMB 2, Glen Osmond, SA 5064, Australia
- 2National Isotope Centre, GNS Science, Lower Hutt, New Zealand
- 3Australian National University, Canberra, ACT, Australia
- acurrent address: Woods Hole Research Center, Falmouth, MA 02540, USA
- bcurrent address: USGS, Menlo Park, CA, USA
Abstract. Devising agricultural management schemes that enhance food security and soil carbon levels is a high priority for many nations. However, the coupling between agricultural productivity, soil carbon stocks and organic matter turnover rates is still unclear. Archived soil samples from four decades of a long-term crop rotation trial were analyzed for soil organic matter (SOM) cycling-relevant properties: C and N content, bulk composition by nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) spectroscopy, amino sugar content, short-term C bioavailability assays, and long-term C turnover rates by modeling the incorporation of the bomb spike in atmospheric 14C into the soil. After > 40 years under consistent management, topsoil carbon stocks ranged from 14 to 33 Mg C ha−1 and were linearly related to the mean productivity of each treatment. Measurements of SOM composition demonstrated increasing amounts of plant- and microbially derived SOM along the productivity gradient. Under two modeling scenarios, radiocarbon data indicated overall SOM turnover time decreased from 40 to 13 years with increasing productivity – twice the rate of decline predicted from simple steady-state models or static three-pool decay rates of measured C pool distributions. Similarly, the half-life of synthetic root exudates decreased from 30.4 to 21.5 h with increasing productivity, indicating accelerated microbial activity. These findings suggest that there is a direct feedback between accelerated biological activity, carbon cycling rates and rates of carbon stabilization with important implications for how SOM dynamics are represented in models.