A Minimally Managed Switchgrass Ecosystem In A Humid Subtropical Climate Is A Source Of Carbon To The Atmosphere

  • Sites: US-SB2
  • Ahlswede, B. J., O'Halloran, T. L., Forsythe, J. D., Thomas, R. Q. (2022/01) A Minimally Managed Switchgrass Ecosystem In A Humid Subtropical Climate Is A Source Of Carbon To The Atmosphere, Gcb Bioenergy, 14(1), 24-36. https://doi.org/10.1111/gcbb.12897
  • Funding Agency: USDA

  • Bioenergy has been identified as a key component of climate change mitigation. Therefore, quantifying the net carbon balance of bioenergy feedstocks is crucial for accurate projections of climate mitigation benefits. Switchgrass (Panicum virgatum) has many characteristics of an ideal bioenergy crop with high yields, low maintenance, and deep roots with potential for belowground carbon sequestration. However, the assessments of net annual carbon exchange between switchgrass fields and the atmosphere are rare. Here we present observations of net carbon fluxes in a minimally managed switchgrass field in Virginia (Ameriflux site US-SB2) over 5 years (3–7 years since establishment). Average annual net ecosystem exchange (NEE) of carbon was near zero (60 g C m−2 year−1) but the net ecosystem carbon balance that includes harvested carbon (HC) was a net source of carbon to the atmosphere (313 g C m−2 year−1). The field alternated between a large and small source of carbon annually, with the interannual variability most strongly correlated with the day of the last frost and the interaction of temperature and precipitation. Overall, the consistent source of carbon to the atmosphere at US-SB2 differs substantially from other eddy covariance studies that report switchgrass fields to be either neutral or a sink of carbon when accounting for both NEE and HC. This study illustrates that predictions of net carbon climate benefits from bioenergy crops cannot assume that the ecosystem will be a net sink of carbon from the atmosphere. Background climate, management, and land-use history may determine whether widespread deployment of switchgrass as a bioenergy feedstock results in realized climate change mitigation.

  • https://doi.org/10.1111/gcbb.12897