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Organic carbon dynamics in grassland soils. 1. Background information and computer simulation




Paul, E. A., author
Van Veen, J. A., author
Agricultural Institute of Canada, publisher

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The decomposition rates of 14C-labelled plant residues in different parts of the world were characterized and mathematically simulated. The easily decomposable materials, cellulose and hemicellulose, were described as being decomposed directly by the soil biomass; the lignin fraction of aboveground residues and the resistant portion of the roots entered a decomposable native soil organic matter. Here it could be decomposed by the soil biomass or react with other soil constituents in the formation of more recalcitrant soil organic matter. The transformation rates were considered to be independent of biomass size (first–order). Data from 14C plant residue incorporation studies which yielded net decomposition rates of added materials and from carbon dating of the recalcitrant soil organic matter were transformed to gross decomposition rate constants for three soil depths. The model adequately described soil organic matter transformations under native grassland and the effect of cultivation on organic matter levels. Correction for microbial growth and moisture and temperature variations showed that the rate of wheat straw decomposition, based on a full year in the field in southern Saskatchewan, was 0.05 that under optimal laboratory conditions. The relative decay rates for plant residues during the summer months of the North American Great Plains was 0.1 times that of the laboratory. Comparison with data from other parts of the world showed an annual relative rate of 0.12 for straw decomposition in England, whereas gross decomposition rates in Nigeria were 0.5 those of laboratory rates. Both the decomposable and recalcitrant organic matter were found to be affected by the extent of physical protection within the soil. The extent of protection was simulated and compared to data from experimental studies on the persistence of 14C-labelled amino acids in soil. The extent of protection influenced the steady-state levels of soil carbon upon cultivation more than did the original decomposition rates of the plant residues.


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soil organic matter
raw decomposition data
microbial product stabilization
microbial growth
carbon dynamics


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