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Carbon and Phosphorus Losses from Decomposing Crop Residues in No-Till and Conventional Till Agroecosystems

Buchanan, Marc, King, Larry D.
Agronomy journal 1993 v.85 no.3 pp. 631-638
crop residue management, no-tillage, carbon, phosphorus, roots, biogeochemical cycles, shoots, losses from soil, Triticum aestivum, degradation, leaves, mineralization, Zea mays, Glycine max, winter, Trifolium incarnatum, conventional tillage, crop residues, grains, lignin, nitrogen, cover crops, chemical constituents of plants, North Carolina
An increased knowledge of crop residue decomposition characteristics is a critical component for nutrient cycling studies in agroecosystems. Carbon and P losses from shoot residues of maize (Zea mays L.), wheat [Triticum estivum (L.), emend. Thell], soybean [Glycine max (L.) Merr.], and shoot and root residues of crimson clover (Trifolium incarnatum L.) were compared in no-till and conventional till systems. Grain crop residues were generally collected from senescent plants following harvest and placed in fiberglass mesh litter bags. Soybean leaf residues, however, were sampled following preharvest abscission, while crimson clover residues were collected at spring anthesis and buried only in a conventional till system. Generally, the changes in C and P content of residues were best described by exponential and/or logarithmic functions. Losses of C and P from crop residues were consistently greater, and more rapid when residues were buried vs. left on the soil surface. Crimson clover shoots lost C and P more rapidly than root residues. Generally, greater initial losses of P than of C occurred in most residues. The lack of correlation between C and P losses is believed to be due to an inital and probably variable inorganic P content that is readily leached prior to the decomposition and mineralization losses of C. Differences in the rate and magnitude of C losses were related to seasonal effects, the initial N and P content, and/or the proportional amount of lignin in the plant residues. Tillage is clearly an important regulator or driving variable for element cycling in agroecosystems.