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Use of a network of long-term experiments for analysis of soil carbon dynamics and global change: the North American model

K Paustian, ET Elliott, HP Collins, CV Cole and EA Paul

Australian Journal of Experimental Agriculture 35(7) 929 - 939
Published: 1995


Soils contain a large proportion of the carbon (C) in the terrestrial biosphere, yet the role of soils as a sink or a source of net atmospheric C flux is uncertain. In agricultural systems, soil C is highly influenced by management practices and there is considerable interest in adapting management systems to promote soil C sequestration, thereby helping to mitigate atmospheric CO2 increases. Long-term field experimental sites represent a unique source of information on soil C dynamics, and networks of such sites provide a key ingredient for making large-scale assessments of soil C change across ranges in climate and soil conditions and management regimes. Currently, there are collaborative efforts to develop such site networks in Australia, Europe, and North America. A network of long-term experiments in North America was established to provide baseline information on the effects of management (i.e. tillage, crop rotations, fertilisation, organic amendments) on soil organic matter. Historical data on soils, primary productivity, climate, and management were synthesised by scientists from the individual field sites, representing a total of 35 long-term field experiments. An additional cross-site soil sampling campaign was carried out to provide uniform comparisons of soil C and nitrogen (N), both within and across sites. Long-term field experiments are a principle component necessary for regional assessments of soil C dynamics. We describe a general methodology for combining long-term data with process-oriented simulation models and regional-level, spatially resolved databases. Such analyses are needed to assess past and present changes in soil C at regional to global scales and to make projections of the potential impacts of changes in climate, CO2, and landuse patterns on soil C in agroecosystems.

© CSIRO 1995

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