To accurately predict the potential environmental benefits of energy crops, the sequestration of carbon in soil needs to be quantified. The aim of this study was to investigate the mineralisation rate of the perennial C4 grass Miscanthus giganteus and Miscanthus-derived soil organic matter under contrasting nitrogen supply. Soils were collected from sites where Miscanthus had been grown for 11 and 18 years, respectively, and where a C3-grass (Lolium spp.) had been grown for 7 years. The soils were incubated for 4 months at two levels of soil inorganic nitrogen with or without dead root material of Miscanthus.
Addition of root material (residues) increased carbon mineralisation of indigenous organic matter when no nitrogen was added. Added inorganic nitrogen decreased carbon mineralisation in all soils. Nitrogen addition did not affect carbon mineralisation of the residues. Using the 13C fraction to calculate the proportion of respiratory CO2 derived from Miscanthus showed that nitrogen addition decreased carbon mineralisation in soils, but it did not affect carbon mineralisation of the residues. Nitrogen mineralisation was highest in the C3 grass soil without added residues. Nitrification decreased pH, especially in the treatments where nitrogen was added. The Miscanthus-derived organic matter is at least as stable as C3 grassland-derived organic matter. Furthermore, the turnover time of the organic matter increases with time under Miscanthus cultivation.
The CENTURY soil organic matter sub-model was used to simulate the organic matter decomposition in the experiment. Carbon mineralisation was accurately simulated but there were unexplained discrepancies in the simulation of the δ13C in the respiration from the treatment with residues. The δ13C in respiration did not decrease with time as predicted, indicating that lignin accumulation did not influence the measurements.
- Soil organic carbon
- Nitrogen fertiliser
- Carbon mineralisation