Accumulation of C4-carbon from Miscanthus in organic-matter-rich soils
Global Change Biology Bioenergy
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To evaluate the sustainability of biomass plantations, effects on soil organic carbon (SOC) need to be quantified. Miscanthus × giganteus is increasingly used as a bioenergy plant, and it has been hypothesized that, after conversion from cropland, Miscanthus cropping increases SOC storage, whereas conversion from grassland to Miscanthus provides, on average, no sequestration. All field studies hitherto were carried out on mineral soils with topsoil SOC contents of below 3.3%. Here, we analyze in the temperate zone of Switzerland five sites that have been cultivated with Miscanthus for 19–24 years and of which four sites are higher in topsoil SOC content (4.7%–16.2%) and storage (188–262 t SOC) than any previously studied Miscanthus plantation in Europe. We used the difference in carbon isotopic signature between C4 (Miscanthus) and neighboring plots with C3 vegetation (grassland) to quantify the accumulation of new SOC from Miscanthus down to 0.75 m. Annual C4-C accumulation rates were 1.66 (standard error ± 0.14) t C4-C ha−1 year−1 (range: 1.26–2.01) in the upper 0.3 m of soil and 1.96 (±0.18) t C4-C ha−1 year−1 (1.40–2.38) in 0–0.75 m. Average rates for 0–0.3 m were higher than those of mineral soils (n = 37) published previously (0.96 [±0.10] t C4-C ha−1 year−1). However, high rates of C4-C accumulation were also reported previously for some mineral soils. Nevertheless, the one mineral soil in our study did not reveal a systematically different accumulation of Miscanthus-derived carbon compared with the four carbon-rich soils. We therefore conclude that soils rich in organic matter do not show a different C4-C accumulation pattern as compared with mineral soils. However, their C4-C accumulation rates are at the upper end of the data ensemble. Our results further underpin that conversion to Miscanthus, despite C4-C accumulation, provides no means to increase soil carbon stocks relative to grassland management.