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  1. Abstract

    Monoculture switchgrass and restored prairie are promising perennial feedstock sources for bioenergy production on the lands unsuitable for conventional agriculture. Such lands often display contrasting topography that influences soil characteristics and interactions between plant growth and soil C gains. This study aimed at elucidating the influences of topography and plant systems on the fate of C originated from switchgrass plants and on its relationships with soil pore characteristics. For that, switchgrass plants were grown in intact soil cores collected from two contrasting topographies, namely steep slopes and topographical depressions, in the fields in multi-year monoculture switchgrass and restored prairie vegetation. The13C pulse labeling allowed tracing the C of switchgrass origin, which X-ray computed micro-tomography enabled in-detail characterization of soil pore structure. In eroded slopes, the differences between the monoculture switchgrass and prairie in terms of total and microbial biomass C were greater than those in topographical depressions. While new switchgrass increased the CO2emission in depressions, it did not significantly affect the CO2emission in slopes. Pores of 18–90 µm Ø facilitated the accumulation of new C in soil, while > 150 µm Ø pores enhanced the mineralization of the new C. These findings suggest that polyculture prairie located in slopes can be particularly beneficial in facilitating soil C accrual and reduce C losses as CO2.

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  2. Free, publicly-accessible full text available October 1, 2024
  3. Summary Plant roots are the main supplier of carbon (C) to the soil, the largest terrestrial C reservoir. Soil pore structure drives root growth, yet how it affects belowground C inputs remains a critical knowledge gap. By combining X‐ray computed tomography with 14 C plant labelling, we identified root–soil contact as a previously unrecognised influence on belowground plant C allocations and on the fate of plant‐derived C in the soil. Greater contact with the surrounding soil, when the growing root encounters a pore structure dominated by small (< 40 μm Ø) pores, results in strong rhizodeposition but in areas of high microbial activity. The root system of Rudbeckia hirta revealed high plasticity and thus maintained high root–soil contact. This led to greater C inputs across a wide range of soil pore structures. The root–soil contact Panicum virgatum , a promising bioenergy feedstock crop, was sensitive to the encountered structure. Pore structure built by a polyculture, for example, restored prairie, can be particularly effective in promoting lateral root growth and thus root–soil contact and associated C benefits. The findings suggest that the interaction of pore structure with roots is an important, previously unrecognised, stimulus of soil C gains. 
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    Free, publicly-accessible full text available October 1, 2024
  4. Microbial communities are known as the primary decomposers of all the carbon accumulated in the soil. However, how important soil structure and its conventional or organic management, moisture content, and how different plant species impact this process are less understood. To answer these questions, we generated a soil microcosm with decomposing corn and soy leaves, as well as soil adjacent to the leaves, and compared it to control samples. We then used high-throughput amplicon sequencing of the ITS and 16S rDNA regions to characterize these microbiomes. Leaf microbiomes were the least diverse and the most even in terms of OTU richness and abundance compared to near soil and far soil, especially in their bacterial component. Microbial composition was significantly and primarily affected by niche (leaves vs. soil) but also by soil management type and plant species in the fungal microbiome, while moisture content and pore sizes were more important drivers for the bacterial communities. The pore size effect was significantly dependent on moisture content, but only in the organic management type. Overall, our results refine our understanding of the decomposition of carbon residues in the soil and the factors that influence it, which are key for environmental sustainability and for evaluating changes in ecosystem functions. 
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    Free, publicly-accessible full text available August 14, 2024
  5. Pore structure is a key determinant of soil functioning, and both root growth and activity of soil fauna are modified by and interact with pore structure in multiple ways. Cover cropping is a rapidly growing popular strategy for improving agricultural sustainability, including improvements in pore structure. However, since cover crop species encompass a variety of contrasting root architectures, they can have disparate effects on formation of soil pores and their characteristics, thus on the pore structure formation. Moreover, utilization of the existing pore systems and its modification by new root growth, in conjunction with soil fauna activity, can also vary by cover crop species, affecting the dynamics of biopores (creation and demolition). The objectives of this study were (i) to quantify the influence of 5 cover crop species on formation and size distribution of soil macropores (>36 μm Ø); (ii) to explore the changes in the originally developed pore architecture after an additional season of cover crop growth; and (iii) to assess the relative contributions of plant roots and soil fauna to fate and modifications of biopores. Intact soil cores were taken from 5 to 10 cm depth after one season of cover crop growth, followed by X-ray computed micro-tomography (CT) characterization, and then, the cores were reburied for a second root growing period of cover crops to explore subsequent changes in pore characteristics with the second CT scanning. Our data suggest that interactions of soil fauna and roots with pore structure changed over time. While in the first season, large biopores were created at the expense of small pores, in the second year these biopores were reused or destroyed by the creation of new ones through earthworm activities and large root growth. In addition, the creation of large biopores (>0.5 mm) increased total macroporosity. During the second root growing period, these large sized macropores, however, are reduced in size again through the action of soil fauna smaller than earthworms, suggesting a highly dynamic equilibrium. Different effects of cover crops on pore structure mainly arise from their differences in root volume, mean diameter as well as their reuse of existing macropores. 
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