Skip to main content
ARS Home » Midwest Area » Urbana, Illinois » Global Change and Photosynthesis Research » Research » Publications at this Location » Publication #390128

Research Project: Optimizing Photosynthesis for Global Change and Improved Yield

Location: Global Change and Photosynthesis Research

Title: Substantial carbon loss respired from a corn-soybean agroecosystem highlights the importance of careful management as we adapt to changing climate

item MOORE, CAITLIN - University Of Illinois
item GIBSON, CHRISTY - University Of Illinois
item MIAO, GUOFANG - Fujian Normal University
item DRACUP, EVAN - University Of Illinois
item GOMEZ-CASANOVAS, NURIA - University Of Illinois
item MASTERS, MICHAEL - University Of Illinois
item MILLER, JESSE - Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)
item VON HADEN, ADAM - University Of Illinois
item MEYERS, TILDEN - National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)
item DELUCIA, EVAN - University Of Illinois
item Bernacchi, Carl

Submitted to: Environmental Research Letters
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: 4/11/2022
Publication Date: 4/28/2022
Citation: Moore, C.E., Gibson, C.D., Miao, G., Dracup, E.C., Gomez-Casanovas, N., Masters, M.D., Miller, J., von Haden, A., Meyers, T., DeLucia, E., Bernacchi, C.J. 2022. Substantial carbon loss respired from a corn-soybean agroecosystem highlights the importance of careful management as we adapt to changing climate. Environmental Research Letters. 17(5). Article 054029.

Interpretive Summary: Agricultural crop fields drive the uptake and release of carbon dioxide from and to the atmosphere. Because of this, it is important to understanding how variation in climate and weather impact the exchange of carbon dioxide. In this study, a ten year experiment was conducted on a corn and soybean rotation field with the goal of addressing how carbon dioxide moves into or out of the ecosystem. A significant fraction of carbon dioxide is shown to leave the ecosystem primarily during the growing season in two years following a drought. The results from this analysis suggest that despite high photosynthetic rates, ecosystem function is altered in years following a drought that corresponds with a large release of carbon dioxide. This carbon dioxide 'burp' that was measured suggests that there is potential for more carbon release from soils when droughts become more prevalent with global warming.

Technical Abstract: Understanding agroecosystem carbon (C) cycle response to climate change and management is vital for maintaining their long-term C storage. We demonstrate this importance through an in-depth examination of a 10-year eddy covariance dataset from a corn-corn-soybean crop rotation grown in the Midwest United States. 10-year average annual net ecosystem exchange (NEE) showed a net C sink of -0.39 Mg C ha-1 y-1. However, NEE in 2014 and 2015 from the corn ecosystem was 3.58 and 2.56 Mg C ha-1 y-1, respectively. Most C loss occurred during the growing season, when photosynthesis should dominate and C fluxes should reflect a net ecosystem gain. Partitioning NEE into gross primary productivity (GPP) and ecosystem respiration (ER) showed this C “burp” was driven by higher ER, with a 51% (2014) and 57% (2015) increase from the 10-yea average (15.84 Mg C ha-1 y-1). GPP was also higher than average (16.24 Mg C ha-1 y-1) by 25% (2014) and 37% (2015), but this was not enough to offset the C emitted from ER. This increased ER was likely driven by enhanced soil microbial respiration associated with ideal growing season climate, substrate availability, nutrient additions, and a potential legacy effect from drought.