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Conversion of marginal land into switchgrass conditionally accrues soil carbon but reduces methane consumption.

Abstract

Switchgrass is a deep-rooted perennial native to the US prairies and an attractive feedstock for bioenergy production; when cultivated on marginal soils it can provide a potential mechanism to sequester and accumulate soil carbon (C). However, the impacts of switchgrass establishment on soil biotic/abiotic properties are poorly understood. Additionally, few studies have reported the effects of switchgrass cultivation on marginal lands that have low soil nutrient quality (N/P) or in areas that have experienced high rates of soil erosion. Here, we report a comparative analyses of soil greenhouse gases (GHG), soil chemistry, and microbial communities in two contrasting soil types (with or without switchgrass) over 17 months (1428 soil samples). These soils are highly eroded, 'Dust Bowl' remnant field sites in southern Oklahoma, USA. Our results revealed that soil C significantly increased at the sandy-loam (SL) site, but not at the clay-loam (CL) site. Significantly higher CO2 flux was observed from the CL switchgrass site, along with reduced microbial diversity (both alpha and beta). Strikingly, methane (CH4) consumption was significantly reduced by an estimated 39 and 47% at the SL and CL switchgrass sites, respectively. Together, our results suggest that soil C stocks and GHG fluxes are distinctly different at highly degraded sites when switchgrass has been cultivated, implying that carbon balance considerations should be accounted for to fully evaluate the sustainability of deep-rooted perennial grass cultivation in marginal lands.

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