, Volume 9, Issue 5, pp 805–815 | Cite as

Incorporation of Plant Residues into Soil Organic Matter Fractions With Grassland Management Practices in the North American Midwest

  • S. A. BillingsEmail author
  • C. M. Brewer
  • B. L. Foster


Disturbed grassland soils are often cited as having the potential to store large amounts of carbon (C). Fertilization of grasslands can promote soil C storage, but little is known about the generation of recalcitrant pools of soil organic matter (SOM) with management treatments, which is critical for long-term soil C storage. We used a combination of soil incubations, size fractionation and acid hydrolysis of SOM, [C], [N], and stable isotopic analyses, and biomass quality indices to examine how fertilization and haying can impact SOM dynamics in Kansan grassland soils. Fertilized soils possessed 113% of the C possessed by soils subjected to other treatments, an increase predominantly harbored in the largest size fraction (212–2,000 μm). This fraction is frequently associated with more labile material. Haying and fertilization/haying, treatments that more accurately mimic true management techniques, did not induce any increase in soil C. The difference in 15N-enrichment between size fractions was consistent with a decoupling of SOM processing between pools with fertilization, congruent with gains of SOM in the largest size fraction promoted by fertilization not moving readily into smaller fractions that frequently harbor more recalcitrant material. Litterfall and root biomass C inputs increased 104% with fertilization over control plots, and this material possessed lower C:N ratios. Models of incubation mineralization kinetics indicate that fertilized soils have larger pools of labile organic C. Model estimates of turnover rates of the labile and recalcitrant C pools did not differ between treatments (65.5 ± 7.2 and 2.9 ± 0.3 μg C d−1, respectively). Although fertilization may promote greater organic inputs into these soils, much of that material is transformed into relatively labile forms of soil C; these data highlight the challenges of managing grasslands for long-term soil C sequestration.


soil carbon soil organic matter grassland land management carbon sequestration Bromus inermis Festuca arundinacea Poa pratensis 



We thank Bruce Johanning and Galen Pittman for helping to maintain the field site. We also thank Drew Dodson, Laurel Haavik, Yen Le, Cheryl Murphy, Alexis Reed, and Trisha Shrum for assistance, and Dr. Val Smith for his work with the REU program at KU. Conversations with Dr. William Schlesinger and Dr. John Pastor were particularly helpful, and two anonymous reviewers helped improve the manuscript. This work was funded by the University of Kansas Center for Research, the Kansas Biological Survey, NASA# NAG13-01008 and USDA-NRICGP #2003-35101-12934. Support was provided to CMB through NSF REU grant DBI-0353911.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, Inc. 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  • S. A. Billings
    • 1
    • 2
    Email author
  • C. M. Brewer
    • 3
  • B. L. Foster
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Ecology and Evolutionary BiologyUniversity of KansasLawrenceUSA
  2. 2.Kansas Biological SurveyUniversity of KansasLawrenceUSA
  3. 3.Norfolk State UniversityNorfolkUSA

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