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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service

Title: REVEGETATION AND CARBON CYCLING IN CHINA'S LOESS PLATEAU

Author
item Reicosky, Donald

Submitted to: Book Chapter
Publication Type: Book / Chapter
Publication Acceptance Date: October 25, 2004
Publication Date: December 1, 2006
Citation: Reicosky, D.C. 2006. Revegetation and carbon cycling in China's Loess Plateau. In: Fischer, A., Rui, L., Saxena, K.G., Jayakumar, R. editors. The Loess Plateau in Central China: Ecological Restoration and Management. ERSEC Ecological Book Series -3. Beijing, China: Tsinghua University Press/Springer. p. 135-148.

Interpretive Summary: China's Loess Plateau is characterized by some of the most extensive soil erosion in the world. The ecological devastation present in this region is influenced by many factors in addition to the very nature of the soil. This work emphasizes the critical role of soil carbon (C) as part of re-vegetation in conservation agriculture to decrease soil erosion and maintain environmental quality and stresses the need for field research using these techniques. Plants capture the carbon dioxide (CO2) and fix C in the grain or in vegetative biomass that protects the soil and serves as an energy source for the soil biology. Practices that sequester soil C help reduce soil erosion and improve water quality for rain-limited areas in China. Intensive tillage releases soil C to the atmosphere as CO2 where it combines with other gases to contribute to the greenhouse effect. Conservation agriculture leaves crop residues on the surface to protect the soil and control the conversion of plant C to soil organic matter and humus. Increasing soil C storage can increase infiltration, increase fertility and nutrient cycling, decrease wind and water erosion, minimize compaction, enhance water quality, decrease C emissions, impede pesticide movement and generally enhance environmental quality. Incorporating C storage in conservation planning demonstrates concern for our global resources and presents a positive role for soil C policies that will have a major impact on our future quality of life. This information will assist scientists, engineers and policy makers in developing improved tillage methods to minimize the gaseous loss and to improve soil C management. Farmers can develop and utilize new management techniques for enhancing soil C by increasing the quantity and quality of crop residues and by changing the type and intensity of tillage. Incorporating C storage in conservation planning demonstrates concern for our global resources and presents a positive role for soil C policies and our future quality of life.

Technical Abstract: Agricultural soil carbon (C) sequestration may be one of the most cost-effective ways to slow processes of global warming. Numerous environmental benefits may result from agricultural activities that sequester soil C and contribute to environmental security. Re-vegetation in land use planning is a tangible demonstration of managing the C cycle. Carbon management through re-vegetation has many implications for erosion control. Plants capture the carbon dioxide (CO2) and fix C in the grain as our food supply or in vegetative biomass that protects the soil and serves as an energy source for the soil biology. As part of no-regret strategies, practices that sequester soil C help reduce soil erosion and improve water quality and are consistent with more sustainable and less chemically dependent global agriculture. This work reviews research on tillage-induced C losses and environmental benefits of soil C and its application for rain-limited areas in China. Intensive tillage releases soil C to the atmosphere as CO2 where it can combine with other gases to contribute to the greenhouse effect. With conservation tillage, crop residues are left more naturally on the surface to protect the soil and control the conversion of plant C to soil organic matter and humus. While we learn more about soil C storage and its central role in direct environmental benefits, we must understand the secondary environmental benefits and what they mean to production agriculture. Increasing soil C storage can increase infiltration, increase fertility and nutrient cycling, decrease wind and water erosion, minimize compaction, enhance water quality, decrease C emissions, impede pesticide movement and generally enhance environmental quality. The proposed re-vegetation strategies for erosion control will also help mitigate global climate change by reducing C emissions to the atmosphere. Because plant biomass generated in re-vegetation is a form of C that we can manage and because of the implications and direct benefit of C in the ecosystem, we must talk directly about C management and C cycling. The sum of each individual C benefit adds to a total package with major significance on a global scale. Incorporating C storage in conservation planning demonstrates concern for our global resources and presents a positive role for soil C policies that will have a major impact on our future quality of life.

Last Modified: 8/27/2014
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