Management effects on labile organic carbon pools



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Texas A&M University


It is well documented that increases in soil organic matter (SOM) improve soil physical properties and increase the overall fertility and sustainability of the soil. Research in SOM storage has recently amplified following the proposal that agricultural soils may provide a significant carbon (C) sink that may aid in the mitigation of increasing atmospheric carbon dioxide. Observed differences in lint yield and nitrogen response from a cotton performance study at the Texas A&M University Experimental Farm near College Station, TX prompted us to examine the effects of tillage and rotation on soil organic C (SOC), soil microbial biomass C (SMBC), 38-day cumulative C mineralization (38-day CMIN), hot-water extractable organic C (hot-WEOC), carbohydrate C, and total glomalin. The treatments examined included conventional-till continuous cotton (CT), reduced-till continuous cotton (RT), and conventional-till cotton after corn rotation (CC) treatments. In pre-plant soil samples, SOC, SMBC, and 38-day CMIN in the top 5 cm were 33, 58, and 79 % greater in RT and 29, 32, and 36 % greater in CC vs. CT. Comparable differences were observed for hot-WEOC and carbohydrate C. Little seasonal variation was observed for labile-C pools throughout the growing season, suggesting minimal C input from cotton roots. Water-stable aggregation was not significantly affected by management, and did not correlate with labile-C pools or total glomalin. Labile-C pools were generally more responsive to management vs. SOC and were strongly correlated with one another. Carbohydrate C of hot-water extracts exhibited the strongest relationships with SMBC and 38-day CMIN, even though it comprised only 3 and 5 % of these pools, respectively. Our data suggest that increasing SOC in Texas cotton-cropping systems through conservation management is possible. Long-term data are still needed to fully address SOC storage potentials in Texas, but increases in labile-C pools resulting from conservation management are attainable and have the potential to positively impact soil fertility.