Soil organic C in the tallgrass prairie-derived region of the corn belt: Effects of long-term crop management

D. R. Huggins, G. A. Buyanovsky, G. H. Wagner, J. R. Brown, R. G. Darmody, T. R. Peck, G. W. Lesoing, M. B. Vanotti, L. G. Bundy

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Concerns with rising atmospheric levels of CO2 have stimulated interest in C flow in terrestrial ecosystems and the potential for increased soil C sequestration. Our objectives were to assess land management effects on soil organic carbon (SOC) dynamics and SOC sequestration for long-term studies in the tallgrass prairie region of the US. Major losses of SOC following conversion of native prairie to arable agriculture at Sanborn Field and the Morrow Plots were rapid (20 to 40 yr), occurred in response to greatly reduced C inputs and accelerated C decay rates, and had largely abated by the mid-1900s. Losses of SOC occurred mainly in easily decomposable, labile C fractions. At Sanborn Field, modeled labile SOC was reduced to 4% of native prairie levels for treatments with low C inputs. A large capacity for soil C sequestration likely exists in the tallgrass prairie region, if labile C pools can be replenished. This agroecosystem has a strong C decomposition regime and increased sequestration of tabile C will rely on management practices that increase C inputs (i.e., fertilization, returning crop residues) and stabilize labile C (i.e., perennial cropping, reduced tillage). The capacity for soil C sequestration, however, will vary considerably among sites and be dependent on initial levels of labile SOC and the ability of management practices to stabilize greater inputs of labile C.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)219-234
Number of pages16
JournalSoil and Tillage Research
Issue number3-4
StatePublished - Jul 6 1998


  • Carbon modeling
  • Carbon sequestration
  • Labile carbon
  • Soil organic carbon
  • Tallgrass prairie

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Agronomy and Crop Science
  • Soil Science
  • Earth-Surface Processes


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