Zheng, H., A. K. Guber, Y. Kuzyakovde, W. Zhang, and A. N. Kravchenko. 2022. Plant species and plant neighbor identity affect associations between plant assimilated C inputs and soil pores. Geoderma 407:115565.
Greater plant diversity is known to facilitate soil C gains, yet the exact mechanisms of this effect are still under intensive discussion. Whether a plant grows in monoculture or in a multi-species mixture can affect allocation of plant assimilates, belowground exudation, and microbial stimulation. The goal of this study was to examine the effects of inter-cropping on a previously overlooked aspect of plant-soil interactions, namely, on locations where plant assimilated C is allocated within the soil pore system and its subsequent fate in relation to soil pore size distributions. The soil for the study originated from a greenhouse experiment with switchgrass (Panicum virgatum L.) (var. Cave’n’Rock) (SW), big bluestem (Andropogon gerardii Vitman) (BB), and wild bergamot (Monarda fistulosa L.) (WB) grown in monocultures and in inter-cropped pairs and subjected to species specific 13C pulse labeling (Kravchenko et al., 2021). Intact soil cores (8 mm Ø) were collected from the experimental pots, subjected to a short-term (10 day) incubation, X-ray computed micro-tomography (µCT) scanning, and soil 13C micro-sampling “geo-referenced” to µCT images. Results indicated that in the plant systems with demonstrated interplant C transfer soil 13C was positively correlated with < 10 µm Ø pores immediately after plant termination and with 20–80 µm Ø pores after the incubation. In the systems without marked interplant C transfer soil, 13C was positively correlated with 20–30 µm Ø pores, however, the correlations disappeared after the incubation. Soils from the systems with demonstrated belowground C transfer displayed lower losses of root-derived C during incubation than the systems where interplant C transfer was negligible. Factors facilitating interplant C transfer appear to also lead to placement of root-derived C into smaller pores and to its greater protection there.
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