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  1. Free, publicly-accessible full text available October 1, 2024
  2. 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
  3. Abstract Due to the heterogeneous nature of soil pore structure, processes such as nitrification and denitrification can occur simultaneously at microscopic levels, making prediction of small-scale nitrous oxide (N 2 O) emissions in the field notoriously difficult. We assessed N 2 O+N 2 emissions from soils under maize ( Zea mays L .) , switchgrass ( Panicum virgatum L.), and energy sorghum ( Sorghum bicolor L.), three potential bioenergy crops in order to identify the importance of different N 2 O sources to microsite production, and relate N 2 O source differences to crop-associated differences in pore structure formation. The combination of isotopic surveys of N 2 O in the field during one growing season and X-ray computed tomography (CT) enabled us to link results from isotopic mappings to soil structural properties. Further, our methodology allowed us to evaluate the potential for in situ N 2 O suppression by biological nitrification inhibition (BNI) in energy sorghum. Our results demonstrated that the fraction of N 2 O originating from bacterial denitrification and reduction of N 2 O to N 2 is largely determined by the volume of particulate organic matter occluded within the soil matrix and the anaerobic soil volume. Bacterial denitrification was greater in switchgrass than in the annual crops, related to changes in pore structure caused by the coarse root system. This led to high N-loses through N 2 emissions in the switchgrass system throughout the season a novel finding given the lack of data in the literature for total denitrification. Isotopic mapping indicated no differences in N 2 O-fluxes or their source processes between maize and energy sorghum that could be associated with the release of BNI by the investigated sorghum variety. The results of this research show how differences in soil pore structures among cropping systems can determine both N 2 O production via denitrification and total denitrification N losses in situ. 
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    Free, publicly-accessible full text available August 2, 2024
  4. 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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