Land-use conversion into bioenergy crop production can alter litter decomposition processes tightly coupled to soil carbon and nutrient dynamics. Yet, litter decomposition has been poorly described in bioenergy production systems, especially following land-use conversion. Predicting decomposition dynamics in postconversion bioenergy production systems is challenging because of the combined influence of land-use legacies with current management and litter quality. To evaluate how land-use legacies interact with current bioenergy crop management to influence litter decomposition in different litter types, we conducted a landscape-scale litterbag decomposition experiment. We proposed land-use legacies regulate decomposition, but their effects are weakened under higher quality litter and when current land use intensifies ecosystem disturbance relative to prior land use. We compared sites left in historical land uses of either agriculture (AG) or Conservation Reserve Program grassland (CRP) to those that were converted to corn or switchgrass bioenergy crop production. Enzyme activities, mass loss, microbial biomass, and changes in litter chemistry were monitored in corn stover and switchgrass litter over 485 days, accompanied by similar soil measurements. Across all measured variables, legacy had the strongest effect (P < 0.05) relative to litter type and current management, where CRP sites maintained higher soil and litter enzyme activities and microbial biomass relative to AG sites. Decomposition responses to conversion depended on legacy but also current management and litter type. Within the CRP sites, conversion into corn increased litter enzymes, microbial biomass, and litter protein and lipid abundances, especially on decomposing corn litter, relative to nonconverted CRP. However, conversion into switchgrass from CRP, a moderate disturbance, often had no effect on switchgrass litter decomposition parameters. Thus, legacies shape the direction and magnitude of decomposition responses to bioenergy crop conversion and therefore should be considered a key influence on litter and soil C cycling under bioenergy crop management.


Soil Biogeochemistry and Microbial Ecology

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GCB Bioenergy: Bioproducts for a Sustainable Bioeconomy



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© 2014 John Wiley & Sons Ltd


This is an open access article published by Wiley in GCB Bioenergy: Bioproducts for a Sustainable Bioeconomy in 2014, available online: