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Ecosystem carbon exchange on conversion of Conservation Reserve Program grasslands to annual and perennial cropping systems

Abraha, Michael, Hamilton, Stephen K., Chen, Jiquan, Robertson, G. Philip
Agricultural and forest meteorology 2018 v.253-254 pp. 151-160
Conservation Reserve Program, Panicum virgatum, Zea mays, biofuels, biomass production, carbon, carbon dioxide, climate change, corn, cropland, crops, drought, ecosystems, eddy covariance, emissions, grasslands, land use change, net ecosystem exchange, no-tillage, perennial cropping, soil
Land use changes into and out of agricultural production may substantially influence ecosystem carbon (C) balance for many years. We examined ecosystem C balances for eight years after the conversion of 22 year-old Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) grasslands and formerly tilled agricultural fields (AGR) to annual (continuous no-till corn) and perennial (switchgrass and restored prairie) cropland. An unconverted CRP field (CRP-Ref) was maintained as a historical reference. Ecosystem C balance was assessed using adjusted net ecosystem carbon exchange (NEEₐdⱼ) calculated by adding C removed in harvested biomass to NEE measured using eddy covariance method. The cumulative NEEₐdⱼ of the corn and perennial systems on former CRP fields showed that these systems were a net C source to the atmosphere over the 8-year period while on former AGR fields, the perennial systems were net C sinks and the corn system near-neutral. The CRP-Ref was near neutral until a drought year when it became a net source. The corn system on the CRP field will likely reach a new lower soil C equilibrium at least 14 years after conversion but will never regain the C lost upon conversion under current no-till management with residue partially removed. On the other hand, the perennial systems could fully regain in ∼14 years the C lost following conversion. The cumulative NEEₐdⱼ of the corn systems exhibited a higher C emission than did the perennial systems within the same land use histories, reflecting the dominant role of crop type and management in agricultural ecosystem C balance. Results suggest that converting croplands to grasslands results in immediate C gains whereas converting grasslands to croplands results in permanent (no-till corn with partial residue removal) or temporary (perennial herbaceous crops) net C loss to the atmosphere. This has a significant implications for global climate change mitigation where biomass production from annual and perennial crops is promoted to avoid fossil-fuel C emissions (biofuel) or to remove CO₂ from the atmosphere (bioenergy C capture and storage).