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Relationship of Soil Respiration to Crop and Landscape in the Walnut Creek Watershed

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  • 1 National Soil Tilth Laboratory, Agricultural Research Service, USDA, Ames, Iowa
  • | 2 Department of Plant and Soil Science, Alabama A&M University, Normal, Alabama
  • | 3 National Soil Tilth Laboratory, Agricultural Research Service, USDA, Ames, Iowa
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Abstract

Soil respiration is an important component of the carbon dynamics of terrestrial ecosystems. Many factors exert controls on soil respiration, including temperature, soil water content, organic matter, soil texture, and plant root activity. This study was conducted to quantify soil respiration in the Walnut Creek watershed in central Iowa, and to investigate the factors controlling this process. Six agricultural fields were identified for this investigation: three of the fields were cropped with soybean [Glycine max (L.) Merr.] and three were cropped with corn (Zea mays L.). Within each field, soil respiration was measured at nine locations, with each location corresponding to one of three general landscape positions (summit, side slope, and depression). Soil respiration was measured using a portable vented chamber connected to an infrared gas analyzer. Soil samples were collected at each location for the measurement of soil water content, pH, texture, microbial biomass, and respiration potential. Field respiration rates did not show a significant landscape effect. However, there was a significant crop effect, with respiration from cornfields averaging 37.5 g CO2 m−2 day−1 versus an average respiration of 13.1 g CO2 m−2 day−1 in soybean fields. In contrast, laboratory measurements of soil respiration potential, which did not include plant roots, showed a significant landscape effect and an insignificant cropping system effect. Similar relationships were observed for soil organic C and microbial biomass. Additional analyses indicate that corn roots may be more important than soybean roots in their contribution to surface CO2 flux, and that root respiration masked landscape effects on total soil respiration. Also, the failure to account for soil respiration may lead to biased estimates of net primary production measured by eddy covariance.

Corresponding author address: Tim Parkin, USDA-ARS National Soil Tilth Laboratory, Ames, IA 50011. Email: parkin@nstl.gov

Abstract

Soil respiration is an important component of the carbon dynamics of terrestrial ecosystems. Many factors exert controls on soil respiration, including temperature, soil water content, organic matter, soil texture, and plant root activity. This study was conducted to quantify soil respiration in the Walnut Creek watershed in central Iowa, and to investigate the factors controlling this process. Six agricultural fields were identified for this investigation: three of the fields were cropped with soybean [Glycine max (L.) Merr.] and three were cropped with corn (Zea mays L.). Within each field, soil respiration was measured at nine locations, with each location corresponding to one of three general landscape positions (summit, side slope, and depression). Soil respiration was measured using a portable vented chamber connected to an infrared gas analyzer. Soil samples were collected at each location for the measurement of soil water content, pH, texture, microbial biomass, and respiration potential. Field respiration rates did not show a significant landscape effect. However, there was a significant crop effect, with respiration from cornfields averaging 37.5 g CO2 m−2 day−1 versus an average respiration of 13.1 g CO2 m−2 day−1 in soybean fields. In contrast, laboratory measurements of soil respiration potential, which did not include plant roots, showed a significant landscape effect and an insignificant cropping system effect. Similar relationships were observed for soil organic C and microbial biomass. Additional analyses indicate that corn roots may be more important than soybean roots in their contribution to surface CO2 flux, and that root respiration masked landscape effects on total soil respiration. Also, the failure to account for soil respiration may lead to biased estimates of net primary production measured by eddy covariance.

Corresponding author address: Tim Parkin, USDA-ARS National Soil Tilth Laboratory, Ames, IA 50011. Email: parkin@nstl.gov

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