Soil carbon sequestration in cool temperate dryland pastures: mechanisms and management options
Eyles, A and Coghlan, G and Hardie, M and Hovenden, M and Bridle, K, Soil carbon sequestration in cool temperate dryland pastures: mechanisms and management options, Soil Research, 53, (4) pp. 349-365. ISSN 1838-675X (2015) [Refereed Article]
Permanent pastures, which include sown, native and naturalised pastures, account for 4.3 Mha (56%) of the national land use in Australia. Given their extent, pastures are of great interest with respect to their potential to influence national carbon (C) budgets and CO2 mitigation. Increasing soil organic C (SOC) mitigates greenhouse gases while providing other benefits such as pasture productivity, soil health and ecosystem services. Several management approaches have been recommended to increase C sequestration in pasture-based systems; however, results have proved variable and often contradictory between sites and years. Here, we present an overview of the processes and mechanisms responsible for C sequestration in permanent pastures. In addition, we discuss the merits of traditional and emerging pasture-management practices for increasing SOC in pastures, with a focus on dryland pasture systems of south-eastern Australia. We conclude by summarising the knowledge gaps and research priorities for soil C-sequestration research in dryland pastures. Our review confirms that soils under a range of pasture types have considerable potential for sequestration of atmospheric CO2 in Australia, and that the magnitude of this potential can be greatly modified by pasture-management practices. Although the shortage of long-term studies under Australian conditions limits our ability to predict the potential of various management approaches to sequester soil C, our review indicates that prevention of erosion through maintenance of groundcover and adoption of options that promote deep C sequestration are likely to confer broad-scale maintenance or increases in SOC in pasture soils over a decade or longer. We acknowledge that the evidence is limited; therefore, confidence in the recommended practices in different locations and climates is largely unknown.