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ARS Home » Plains Area » Temple, Texas » Grassland Soil and Water Research Laboratory » Research » Research Project #429095

Research Project: Development and Evaluation of Sustainable Crop and Grassland Production Systems

Location: Grassland Soil and Water Research Laboratory

Project Number: 3098-11220-008-000-D
Project Type: In-House Appropriated

Start Date: Jan 4, 2016
End Date: Nov 25, 2018

Objective 1: Evaluate the long-term effects of atmospheric CO2 enrichment from pre-industrial to mid-21st century concentrations on carbon cycling, soil nutrient pools, and soil microbial communities in native grassland and switchgrass. Objective 2: Determine the contributions of abiotic, and biotic factors including precipitation variability, frequency/magnitude of water limitation, and exotic species on plant productivity and community composition, biogeochemical cycling, and soil microbial communities of native grassland and switchgrass, and incorporate process-level understanding into the ALMANAC simulation model. Objective 3: Evaluate economic and environmental consequences of alternative cropping and grazing systems management practices. Objective 4: As part of the LTAR network, and in concert with similar long-term, land-based research infrastructure in the U.S, use the Texas Gulf LTAR site to improve the observational capabilities and data accessibility of the LTAR network and support research to sustain or enhance agricultural production and environmental quality in agroecosystems characteristic of the Gulf Coast region. Research and data collection are planned and implemented based on the LTAR site application and in accordance with the responsibilities outlined in the LTAR Shared Research Strategy, a living document that serves as a roadmap for LTAR implementation. Participation in the LTAR network includes research and data management in support of the ARS GRACEnet and/or Livestock GRACEnet projects. Sub-objective 4.1: Create “business as usual” and “aspirational” production and ecosystem service system scenarios as outlined by the LTAR common experiment. Assess the sustainability of both systems and develop new strategies to enable greater sustainability.

Expose vegetated monoliths of three soil types to a continuous gradient in atmospheric carbon dioxide ranging from low levels of the pre-industrial period to elevated concentrations predicted within the century. We will measure plant production, and changes in the relative abundances of tallgrass prairie vegetation growing on each soil type. Changes in soil organic carbon content, soil nutrient pools, and soil microbial community composition will be measured in each soil as a function of carbon dioxide treatment. We also will compare responses of aboveground net primary productivity and the relative abundances of tallgrass prairie vegetation in field-scale plantings of switchgrass monocultures and mixtures of tallgrass prairie species to inter-annual variability in precipitation on upland and lowland soils. The Agricultural Land Management Alternative with Numerical Assessment Criteria model will be validated with data from the carbon dioxide experiment and field-scale plots of switchgrass and prairie species to simulate effects of changes in both atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration and precipitation patterns on grassland carbon cycling. To evaluate short-term carbon mineralization and water extractable organic C and N as a predictor of potential nitrogen mineralization, soil samples collected from across the country, including samples from the NAPT soil database, will be analyzed using the ARS-developed Solvita respiration method and other currently used mineralization tests. Compare soil health and water quality differences in fields managed with traditional techniques versus enhanced techniques focused on optimal fertilizer rates and cover crop rotations.