Soil particulate organic matter increases under perennial bioenergy crop agriculture

I. B. Kantola, M. D. Masters, E. H. DeLucia

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Annual row crop agriculture contributes to carbon (C) losses from Midwest soils, while the establishment of perennial crops for food and fuel has the potential to increase soil C stocks. Perennial grasses eliminate the need for tillage and increase belowground biomass, both critical to the accumulation and conservation of soil organic matter and to soil C sequestration. The effect of C4 perennial grasses on particulate organic matter carbon (POM-C), consisting primarily of partially decomposed plant material, was evaluated in Illinois, where native switchgrass (Panicum virgatum L.) and a sterile hybrid of the Asian grass Miscanthus (Miscanthus x giganteus) were planted as bioenergy feedstocks at the University of Illinois Energy Farm in 2008. Six years after establishment of perennial crops, POM-C was compared with a maize-maize-soybean (Zea mays L., Glycine max L.) rotation typical of the area and a 28-species restored prairie. POM-C concentrations increased for all crops between 31 and 71% over 6 years, with the greatest increases in prairie and M. x giganteus soils. POM-C concentrations were highest at the 0–10 cm depth. Isotopic analyses showed 23–44% of POM-C was new C4 material under perennial bioenergy crops after 6 years. As soil organic matter is primarily plant-derived, increases in POM-C reflect increased organic matter inputs or decreases in the rate of decomposition from the cessation of tillage. Increases in POM-C under annual row crops may result from the incorporation of aboveground organic matter by tillage, while POM-C increases in untilled perennial crops mirror increases in belowground biomass. As soil aggregation protects POM-C from microbial degradation, untilled soils under long-term perennial crop production increase the residence time for soil C.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)184-191
Number of pages8
JournalSoil Biology and Biochemistry
StatePublished - Oct 2017


  • Biomass crops
  • C sequestration
  • Particulate organic matter
  • Perennial crops
  • Soil organic carbon

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Microbiology
  • Soil Science

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