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Converting highly productive arable cropland in Europe to grassland: - A poor candidate for carbon sequestration

Gosling, P and Van Der Gast, C and Bending, GD (2017) Converting highly productive arable cropland in Europe to grassland: - A poor candidate for carbon sequestration. Scientific Reports, 7. ISSN 2045-2322

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Abstract

© 2017 The Author(s). Sequestration of atmospheric CO 2 as organic carbon by agricultural soils (SOC) is promoted as a climate change mitigation option. IPCC provides guidelines for determining carbon stocks and sequestration potential, incentivising policy changes towards management of farmland for carbon sequestration. However, the basis of the assumption that agricultural soils can sequester significant atmospheric CO 2 has been questioned. We sought to determine the potential for conversion of arable cropland to grassland to sequester carbon in the short to medium term and potential limiting factors. There were no differences in SOC stocks in the top 30 cm between grassland up to 17 years old and arable cropland at 14 sites across the UK. However, SOC showed different distribution patterns, being concentrated in the top 10 cm under grassland. Soil microbial communities were significantly different between arable and grassland, with higher biomass and lesser dominance by bacteria in grassland soils. A land use conversion experiment showed these changes occurred within one year of land use change. Failure of grassland soils to accumulate SOC was attributed to reduced available soil nitrogen, resulting in low productivity. The implications of these results for carbon sequestration in soils as a climate change mitigation strategy are discussed.

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