Carbon cycling and sequestration opportunities in temperate grasslands


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Abstract. Temperate grasslands account for c. 20% of the land area in Europe. Carbon accumulation in grassland ecosystems occurs mostly below ground and changes in soil organic carbon stocks may result from land use changes (e.g. conversion of arable land to grassland) and grassland management. Grasslands also contribute to the biosphere–atmosphere exchange of non-CO2 radiatively active trace gases, with fluxes intimately linked to management practices. In this article, we discuss the current knowledge on carbon cycling and carbon sequestration opportunities in temperate grasslands. First, from a simple two-parameter exponential model fitted to literature data, we assess soil organic carbon fluxes resulting from land use change (e.g. between arable and grassland) and from grassland management. Second, we discuss carbon fluxes within the context of farming systems, including crop–grass rotations and farm manure applications. Third, using a grassland ecosystem model (PaSim), we provide estimates of the greenhouse gas balance, in CO2 equivalents, of pastures for a range of stocking rates and of N fertilizer applications. Finally, we consider carbon sequestration opportunities for France resulting from the restoration of grasslands and from the de-intensification of intensive livestock breeding systems. We emphasize major uncertainties concerning the magnitude and non-linearity of soil carbon stock changes in agricultural grasslands as well as the emissions of N2O from soil and of CH4 from grazing livestock.