Papers in the Biological Sciences


Date of this Version



British Journal of Environment & Climate Change, 3(1): 24-43, 2013


© 2013 Kochsiek and Knops; This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License


Aims: To determine whether addition of inorganic nitrogen (N) directly to maize litter (stalk and leaf) with differing tissue quality impacts litter and soil organic matter (SOM) decomposition. We tested whether N addition leads to 1) faster litter decomposition, 2) less SOM-C decomposition and 3) increased incorporation of organic-C into soil-C fractions thereby increasing C sequestration potential in maize-based systems.

Methodology: We investigated decomposition of two types of maize litter (stalk and leaf) with differing tissue quality both in the field and in a laboratory incubation experiment. In the field, litter was placed on the soil surface and at 10 cm soil depth to investigate the effect of litter burial and N addition on litter decomposition. Litter was harvested at six and twelve month intervals. In the incubation experiment, maize and stalk litter was ground and incorporated into the soil and incubated at 25ºC for 120 days. We measured CO2-C evolved and employed δ13C natural abundance differences between litter-C and SOM-C to measure both litter-C and SOM-C decomposition. At the end of the experiment, we examined soil-C storage via soil physical fractionation.

Results: Exogenous N addition to litter had little effect both litter and SOM decomposition in the field and the laboratory except for in the stalk litter treatment where there was an 8% decrease in litter-C loss and a 5% increase in SOM-C loss in the laboratory incubation experiment. N addition to litter increased decomposition of litter in the first 20 days of litter decomposition in the laboratory incubation experiment, but reduced litter decomposition rates after day 20. N addition to litter had very little effect on C storage in soil aggregates. In the field, litter placement, and physical litter structure influenced decomposition much more than N inputs. Thus, adding N to litter is not an effective strategy to sequester C in maize-based systems.

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