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Nitrogen cycling from increased soil organic carbon contributes both positively and negatively to ecosystem services in wheat agro-ecosystems

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journal contribution
posted on 2023-05-03, 15:20 authored by Jeda Palmer, Peter Thorburn, Jodi Biggs, Estelle DominatiEstelle Dominati, Merv E. Probert, Elizabeth A. Meier, Neil I. Huth, Mike DoddMike Dodd, Val SnowVal Snow, Joshua R. Larsen, William J. Parton
Soil organic carbon (SOC) is an important and manageable property of soils that impacts on multiple ecosystem services through its effect on soil processes such as nitrogen (N) cycling and soil physical properties. There is considerable interest in increasing SOC concentration in agro-ecosystems worldwide. In some agro-ecosystems, increased SOC has been found to enhance the provision of ecosystem services such as the provision of food. However, increased SOC may increase the environmental footprint of some agro-ecosystems, for example by increasing nitrous oxide emissions. Given this uncertainty, progress is needed in quantifying the impact of increased SOC concentration on agro-ecosystems. Increased SOC concentration affects both N cycling and soil physical properties (i.e., water holding capacity). Thus, the aim of this study was to quantify the contribution, both positive and negative, of increased SOC concentration on ecosystem services provided by wheat agro-ecosystems. We used the Agricultural Production Systems sIMulator (APSIM) to represent the effect of increased SOC concentration on N cycling and soil physical properties, and used model outputs as proxies for multiple ecosystem services from wheat production agro-ecosystems at seven locations around the world. Under increased SOC, we found that N cycling had a larger effect on a range of ecosystem services (food provision, filtering of N, and nitrous oxide regulation) than soil physical properties. We predicted that food provision in these agro-ecosystems could be significantly increased by increased SOC concentration when N supply is limiting. Conversely, we predicted no significant benefit to food production from increasing SOC when soil N supply (from fertiliser and soil N stocks) is not limiting. The effect of increasing SOC on N cycling also led to significantly higher nitrous oxide emissions, although the relative increase was small. We also found that N losses via deep drainage were minimally affected by increased SOC in the dryland agro-ecosystems studied, but increased in the irrigated agro-ecosystem. Therefore, we show that under increased SOC concentration, N cycling contributes both positively and negatively to ecosystem services depending on supply, while the effects on soil physical properties are negligible.


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Copyright © 2017 Palmer, Thorburn, Biggs, Dominati, Probert, Meier, Huth, Dodd, Snow, Larsen and Parton. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY). The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) or licensor are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.


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Frontiers Media

Journal title

Frontiers in plant Science




Palmer, J., Thorburn, P. J., Biggs, J. S., Dominati, E. J., Dodd, M., Snow, V., ... Parton, W. J. (2017). Nitrogen cycling from increased soil organic carbon contributes both positively and negatively to ecosystem services in wheat agro-ecosystems. Frontiers in Plant Science, 8, 731. doi:10.3389/fpls.2017.00731