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Keywords:

  • decomposition;
  • energy crop;
  • leaf fall;
  • Miscanthus × giganteus ;
  • nitrogen;
  • soil carbon

Abstract

Energy crops are currently promoted as potential sources of alternative energy that can help mitigate the climate change caused by greenhouse gases (GHGs). The perennial crop Miscanthus × giganteus is considered promising due to its high potential for biomass production under conditions of low input. However, to assess its potential for GHG mitigation, a better quantification of the crop's contribution to soil organic matter recycling under various management systems is needed. The aim of this work was to study the effect of abscised leaves on carbon (C) and nitrogen (N) recycling in a Miscanthus plantation. The dynamics of senescent leaf fall, the rate of leaf decomposition (using a litter bag approach) and the leaf accumulation at the soil surface were tracked over two 1-year periods under field conditions in Northern France. The fallen leaves represented an average yearly input of 1.40 Mg C ha−1 and 16 kg N ha−1. The abscised leaves lost approximately 54% of their initial mass in 1 year due to decomposition; the remaining mass, accumulated as a mulch layer at the soil surface, was equivalent to 7 Mg dry matter (DM) ha−1 5 years after planting. Based on the estimated annual leaf-C recycling rate and a stabilization rate of 35% of the added C, the annual contribution of the senescent leaves to the soil C was estimated to be approximately 0.50 Mg C ha−1yr−1 or 10 Mg C ha−1 total over the 20-year lifespan of a Miscanthus crop. This finding suggested that for Miscanthus, the abscised leaves contribute more to the soil C accumulation than do the rhizomes or roots. In contrast, the recycling of the leaf N to the soil was less than for the other N fluxes, particularly for those involving the transfer of N from the tops of the plant to the rhizome.