Carbon dioxide enrichment and nitrogen fertilization effects on cotton (Gossypium hirsutum L.) plant residue chemistry and decomposition
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Increased atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) concentration will likely cause changes in plant productivity and composition that might affect soil decomposition processes. The objective of this study was to test to what extent elevated CO2 and N fertility-induced changes in residue quality controlled decomposition rates. Cotton (Gossypium hirsutum L.) was grown in 8-l pots and exposed to two concentrations of CO2 (390 or 722 μmol mol-1) and two levels of N fertilization (1.0 or 0.25 g l-1 soil) within greenhouse chambers for 8 wks. Plants were then chemically defoliated and air-dried. Leaf, stem and root residues were assayed for total non-structural carbohydrates (TNC), lignin (LTGA), proanthocyanidins (PA), C and N. Respiration rates of an unsterilized sandy soil (Lakeland Sand) mixed with residues from the various treatments were determined using a soda lime trap to measure CO2 release. At harvest, TNC and PA concentrations were 17 to 45% higher in residues previously treated with elevated CO2 compared with controls. Leaf and stem residue LTGA concentrations were not significantly affected by either the elevated CO2 or N fertilization treatments, although root residue LTGA concentration was 30% greater in plants treated with elevated CO2. The concentration of TNC in leaf residues from the low N fertilization treatment was 2.3 times greater than that in the high N fertilization treatment, although TNC concentration in root and stem residues was suppressed 13 to 23% by the low soil N treatment. PA and LTGA concentrations in leaf, root and stem residues were affected by less than 10% by the low N fertilization treatment. N concentration was 14 to 44% lower in residues obtained from the elevated CO2 and low N fertilization treatments. In the soil microbial respiration assay, cumulative CO2 release was 10 to 14% lower in soils amended with residues from the elevated CO2 and low N fertility treatments, although treatment differences diminished as the experiment progressed. Treatment effects on residue N concentration and C:N ratios appeared to be the most important factors affecting soil microbial respiration. The results of our study strongly suggest that, although elevated CO2 and N fertility may have significant impact on post-harvest plant residue quality of cotton, neither factor is likely to substantially affect decomposition. Thus, C cycling might not be affected in this way, but via simple increases in plant biomass production.
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