Land use effects on soil carbon fractions in the southeastern United States. I. Management-intensive versus extensive grazing
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Changes in grassland management intended to increase productivity can lead to sequestration of substantial amounts of atmospheric C in soils. Management-intensive grazing (MiG) can increase forage production in mesic pastures, but potential impacts on soil C have not been evaluated. We sampled four pastures (to 50 cm depth) in Virginia, USA, under MiG and neighboring pastures that were extensively grazed or hayed to evaluate impacts of grazing management on total soil organic C and N pools, and soil C fractions. Total organic soil C averaged 8.4 Mg C ha–1 (22%) greater under MiG; differences were significant at three of the four sites examined while total soil N was greater for two sites. Surface (0–10 cm) particulate organic matter (POM) C increased at two sites; POM C for the entire depth increment (0–50 cm) did not differ significantly between grazing treatments at any of the sites. Mineral-associated C was related to silt plus clay content and tended to be greater under MiG. Neither soil C:N ratios, POM C, or POM C:total C ratios were accurate indicators of differences in total soil C between grazing treatments, though differences in total soil C between treatments attributable to changes in POM C (43%) were larger than expected based on POM C as a percentage of total C (24.5%). Soil C sequestration rates, estimated by calculating total organic soil C differences between treatments (assuming they arose from changing grazing management and can be achieved elsewhere) and dividing by duration of treatment, averaged 0.41 Mg C ha–1 year–1 across the four sites.