Martinez-Feria, R. and B. Basso. 2020. Predicting soil carbon changes in switchgrass grown on marginal lands under climate change and adaptation strategies. Global Change Biology Bioenergy 12:742-755.

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The United States Great Lakes Region (USGLR) is a critical geographic area for future bioenergy production. Switchgrass (Panicum virgatum) is widely considered a carbon ©-neutral or C-negative bioenergy production system, but projected increases in air temperature and precipitation due to climate change might substantially alter soil organic C (SOC) dynamics and storage in soils. This study examined long-term SOC changes in switchgrass grown on marginal land in the USGLR under current and projected climate, predicted using a process-based model (Systems Approach to Land-Use Sustainability) extensively calibrated with a wealth of plant and soil measurements at nine experimental sites. Simulations indicate that these soils are likely a net C sink under switchgrass (average gain 0.87 Mg C ha-1 year-1), although substantial variation in the rate of SOC accumulation was predicted (range: 0.2-1.3 Mg C ha-1 year-1). Principal component analysis revealed that the predicted intersite variability in SOC sequestration was related in part to differences in climatic characteristics, and to a lesser extent, to heterogeneous soils. Although climate change impacts on switchgrass plant growth were predicted to be small (4%-6% decrease on average), the increased soil respiration was predicted to partially negate SOC accumulations down to 70% below historical rates in the most extreme scenarios. Increasing N fertilizer rate and decreasing harvest intensity both had modest SOC sequestration benefits under projected climate, whereas introducing genotypes better adapted to the longer growing seasons was a much more effective strategy. Best-performing adaptation scenarios were able to offset >60% of the climate change impacts, leading to SOC sequestration 0.7 Mg C ha-1 year-1 under projected climate. On average, this was 0.3 Mg C ha-1 year-1 more C sequestered than the no adaptation baseline. These findings provide crucial knowledge needed to guide policy and operational management for maximizing SOC sequestration of future bioenergy production on marginal lands in the USGLR.

DOI: 10.1111/gcbb.12726

Associated Treatment Areas:

GLBRC Marginal Land Experiment

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