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New soil carbon sequestration with nitrogen enrichment: a meta-analysis

Abstract

Background and aims

Through agriculture and industry, humans are increasing the deposition and availability of nitrogen (N) in ecosystems worldwide. Carbon (C) isotope tracers provide useful insights into soil C dynamics, as they allow to study soil C pools of different ages. We evaluated to what extent N enrichment affects soil C dynamics in experiments that applied C isotope tracers.

Methods

Using meta-analysis, we synthesized data from 35 published papers. We made a distinction between “new C” and “old C” stocks, i.e., soil C derived from plant C input since the start of the isotopic enrichment, or unlabeled, pre-existing soil C.

Results

Averaged across studies, N addition increased new soil C stocks (+30.3%), total soil C stocks (+6.1%) and soil C input proxies (+30.7%). Although N addition had no overall, average, effect on old soil C stocks and old soil C respiration, old soil C stocks increased with the amount of N added and respiration of old soil C declined. Nitrogen-induced effects on new soil C and soil C input both decreased with the amount of extraneous N added in control treatments.

Conclusion

Although our findings require additional confirmation from long-term field experiments, our analysis provides isotopic evidence that N addition stimulates soil C storage both by increasing soil C input and (at high N rates) by decreasing decomposition of old soil C. Furthermore, we demonstrate that the widely reported saturating response of plant growth to N enrichment also applies to new soil C storage.

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Acknowledgements

We would like to thank all authors of the studies in our dataset. Many thanks to Peter Reich for his comments on an earlier version of this manuscript. Many thanks to Shi Yafei for his helpful instructions on R coding. This work was supported by the National Key Research and Development Program of China (2017YFD0300104), the China Scholarship Council (CSC) (201706850042) and the US Department of Energy, Terrestrial Ecosystem Sciences grant DE SC0008270. C.T. was supported by a Lawrence Fellow award through Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL). This work was performed under the auspices of the U.S. Department of Energy by LLNL under contract DE-AC52-07NA27344 and was supported by the LLNL-LDRD Program under Project No. 20-ERD-055.

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Huang, X., Terrer, C., Dijkstra, F.A. et al. New soil carbon sequestration with nitrogen enrichment: a meta-analysis. Plant Soil 454, 299–310 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11104-020-04617-x

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Keywords

  • Isotopes
  • Nitrogen saturation
  • Nitrogen addition
  • Soil carbon dynamics
  • Soil carbon input