Soil carbon source and accumulation over 12,000 years in a semi-natural Miscanthus sinensis grassland in southern Japan

D. S. Howlett, Y. Toma, H. Wang, S. Sugiyama, T. Yamada, A. Nishiwaki, F. Fernandez, J. R. Stewart

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Miscanthus, a promising feedstock for the production of lignocellulosic ethanol, will likely see a considerable increase in cultivation and production in the U.S. and Europe in the coming decades. To better predict the effect of this change on soil edaphic resources, we examined a Miscanthus sinensis-dominated grassland in its native range in southern Japan. Soil organic carbon age, accumulated carbon stock, and carbon source were determined on pyrolysis volatile (Py-V) and pyrolysis residue (Py-R) fractions of soil organic matter. Stable carbon isotopic composition of soil organic matter was also determined. Values of total sequestered C summed from two soil profiles (0-1.5m) were 515 and 559MgCha-1. Stable isotope analysis showed that about 66.8% of soil C, ranging from 52.0 to 84.8%, was derived from C4 plants. Variation of soil age indicated by 14C dates of Py-V and Py-R fractions was correlated linearly with soil depths with a R2 value ranging from 0.98 to 0.99. Phytolith data showed an increase in abundance of M. sinensis and Pleioblastus sect. Nezasa following a pyroclastic eruption 7kyrs ago, and a decrease in Sasa sect. Crassinodi from 12 to 7kyrs ago. Organic carbon flux ranged from 0.85 to 1.63MgCha-1yr-1 through 1.5-m soil profiles, and Miscanthus-derived carbon flux was distributed in a similar pattern to the total C throughout the soil profiles. Over a 12,000year history of land use at the Aso caldera, Japan, M. sinensis was found to be a major contributor to soil carbon and a sink for atmospheric CO2, which, under certain constraints, has implications for the potential sequestration of soil carbon under Miscanthus in cultivated conditions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)127-135
Number of pages9
StatePublished - May 2013


  • Andisols
  • Biofuels
  • C grasses
  • Japan
  • Miscanthus sinensis
  • Soil carbon sequestration

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Earth-Surface Processes


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