Analysis of Factors Controlling Soil Organic Matter Levels in Great Plains Grasslands

Author: Parton, W.J.; Schimel, D.S.; Cole, C.V.; Ojima, D.S.

Description: We analyzed climatic and textural controls of soil organic C and N for soils of the U.S. Great Plains. We used a model of soil organic matter (SOM) quantity and composition to simulate steady-state organic matter levels for 24 grassland locations in the Great Plains. The model was able to simulate the effects of climatic gradients on SOM and productivity. Soil texture was also a major control over organic matter dynamics. The model adequately predicted aboveground plant production and soil C and N levels across soil textures (sandy, medium, and fine); however, the model tended to overestimate soil C and N levels for fine textured soil by 10 to 15%. The impact of grazing on the system was simulated and showed that steady-state soil C and N levels were sensitive to the grazing intensity, with soil C and N levels decreasing with increased grazing rates. Regional trends in SOM can be predicted using four site-specific variables, temperature, moisture, soil texture, and plant lignin content. Nitrogen inputs must also be known. Grazing intensity during soil development is also a significant control over steady-state levels of SOM, and since few data are available on presettlement grazing, some uncertainty is inherent in the model predictions.

Subject headings: Carbon; Nitrogen; Soil; Grassland; Grazing

Publication year: 1987

Journal or book title: Soil Science Society of America Journal

Volume: 51

Issue: 5

Pages: 1173-1179

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Type: Journal Article

Serial number: 2045