, Volume 187, Issue 2, pp 351-365

Modelling climate, CO2 and management impacts on soil carbon in semi-arid agroecosystems

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In agroecosystems, there is likely to be a strong interaction between global change and management that will determine whether soil will be a source or sink for atmospheric C. We conducted a simulation study of changes in soil C as a function of climate and CO2 change, for a suite of different management systems, at four locations representing a climate sequence in the central Great Plains of the US.

Climate, CO2 and management interactions were analyzed for three agroecosystems: a conventional winter wheat-summer fallow rotation, a wheat-corn-fallow rotation and continuous cropping with wheat. Model analyses included soil C responses to changes in the amount and distribution of precipitation and responses to changes in temperature, precipitation and CO2 as projected by a general circulation model for a 2 × CO2 scenario.

Overall, differences between management systems at all the sites were greater than those induced by perturbations of climate and/or CO2. Crop residue production was increased by CO2 enrichment and by a changed climate. Where the frequency of summer fallowing was reduced (wheat-corn-fallow) or eliminated (continuous wheat), soil C increased under all conditions, particularly with increased (640 μL L−1) CO2. For wheat-fallow management, the model predicted declines in soil C under both ambient conditions and with climate change alone. Increased CO2 with wheat-fallow management yielded small gains in soil C at three of the sites and reduced losses at the fourth site.

Our results illustrate the importance of considering the role of management in determining potential responses of agroecosystems to global change. Changes in climate will determine changes in management as farmers strive to maximize profitability. Therefore, changes in soil C may be a complex function of climate driving management and management driving soil C levels and not be a simple direct effect of either climate or management.