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Does maize and legume crop residue mulch matter in soil organic carbon sequestration?

Chen, J., Heiling, M., Resch, C., Mbaye, M., Gruber, R., Dercon, G.
Agriculture, ecosystems & environment 2018 v.265 pp. 123-131
Cambisols, Chernozems, Vicia, agricultural soils, carbon sequestration, corn, correlation, crop residues, crop rotation, field experimentation, greenhouses, microbial biomass, mulching, nitrogen, nitrogen content, soil organic carbon, soybeans, stable isotopes
Soil management techniques, such as mulching, are used to enhance soil organic carbon sequestration. However, we demonstrate that the potential of crop residue mulching to increase soil organic carbon (SOC) sequestration varies by cropping system and soil type in Austrian agricultural soils. Effects of mulch (as harvested crop residues applied at 1.0 t C ha−1) on soil and microbial carbon (C) and nitrogen (N) and soil δ13C were measured in an Austrian Cambisol field experiment with sole maize or vetch or vetch-maize rotation cropping systems after five years with or without mulching to elucidate how SOC is affected. The direct role of mulch on SOC in different soil types was also investigated in a similar greenhouse mesocosm study with controlled moisture using the same Cambisols and an Austrian agricultural Chernozem. Only sole maize cropping in the field experiment resulted in higher SOC with mulching and when legumes were included in a legume-maize rotation SOC did not improve. Mulching in the field experiment only resulted in higher SOC in the top 0–5 cm of soils with sole maize cropping (by 22%) compared to soils without mulch. Although mulch did not increase SOC in vetch-maize rotation, the δ13C of SOC was less negative with mulch indicating larger C contribution from maize than vetch mulch. After four years of annual soybean-maize rotation in the mesocosm experiment, no significant differences in SOC were observed in Cambisols with or without mulch. Again, δ13C of both soil types was less negative with mulching indicating a larger C contribution from maize than soybean mulch. No relationships between microbial biomass C and N and SOC were observed in either experiment and only soil N concentration was positively correlated with SOC. Together these studies indicate that maize can increase SOC when crop residues are applied in Austrian Cambisols but that inclusion of legume production and legume mulch in rotation can mute these benefits.