Annual carbon balance of an intensively grazed pasture: magnitude and controls
Mudge, P. L. (2009). Annual carbon balance of an intensively grazed pasture: magnitude and controls (Thesis, Master of Science (MSc)). The University of Waikato, Hamilton, New Zealand. Retrieved from http://hdl.handle.net/10289/2805
Permanent Research Commons link: http://hdl.handle.net/10289/2805
Soil carbon (C) is important because even small changes in soil C can affect atmospheric concentrations of CO₂, which in turn can influence global climate. Adequate soil carbon is also required to maintain soil quality, which is important to if agricultural production is to be sustained. The soil carbon balance of New Zealand's pastoral soils is poorly understood, with recent research showing that soils under dairy pasture have lost large amounts of C during the past few decades. The main objective of this research was to determine an annual farm scale C budget for an intensively grazed dairy farm, with a second objective being to determine the amount of CO₂-C lost following cultivation for pasture renewal, and soil pugging by dairy cattle. A third objective was to investigate the environmental controls of CO₂ exchange in a dairy farm pasture system. Net ecosystem exchange (NEE) of CO₂ was measured using an eddy covariance (EC) system from 15 December 2007 to 14 December 2008. Closed chamber techniques were used to measure CO₂ emissions from three cultivated paddocks and three adjacent pasture paddocks between 26 January 2008 and 5 March 2008. CO₂ emissions were also measured using chambers from pugged and control plots between 25 June and 5 August. Coincidentally this research was carried out in a year with a severe summer/autumn drought and a wetter than usual winter. Annual NEE measured with the eddy covariance system was -1,843 kg C ha⁻¹ (a C gain by the land surface). Accounting for C in supplement import, milk export, pasture export and losses in methane, the dairy pasture system was a net sink of -880±500 kg C ha⁻¹. This C sequestration occurred despite severe drought during the study, which was in contrast to other studies of grasslands during drought. Cultivation under dry conditions did not increase cumulative CO₂-C emissions compared to adjacent pasture paddocks. However, when C inputs to pasture paddocks via photosynthesis were included in calculations, net C loss from the cultivated paddocks (during the 39 day study) was estimated to be 622 kg C ha⁻¹ more than the pasture paddocks. CO₂ emissions were lower from pugged plots compared to control plots, probably caused by decreased microbial and root respiration due to wetter soil conditions, and lowered root respiration as a result of lower pasture production. Volumetric soil moisture content (soil moisture) had a dominant effect on CO₂ exchange at a range of temporal scales. Respiration and photosynthesis were both reduced when soil moisture was below 43% (~the lower limit of readily available water) and photosynthesis virtually ceased when soil moisture declined below 24% (~wilting point). Soil moisture also influenced the relationship between temperature and respiration and photosynthetic flux density (PPFD) and NEE. These results suggest that management related soil disturbances of occasional cultivation for pasture renewal and soil pugging, are unlikely to cause large losses of soil C. Further, a severe drought also did not cause CO₂-C losses from the land surface to the atmosphere on an annual scale, in contrast to previous studies.
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