Irrigation and Fertilization Controls on Critical Zone Carbon and Nitrogen cycles in Harvested Ecosystems

Thursday, 18 December 2014: 10:20 AM
Anthony Parolari, Gabriel George Katul and Amilcare M Porporato, Duke University, Durham, NC, United States
Feedbacks between hydrology, soil biogeochemistry, and primary productivity raise questions regarding the broader impact of human modifications to one or more of these critical zone processes. In particular, irrigation and nitrogen fertilization are used simultaneously to stimulate agricultural productivity and biomass export; however, together they may lead to unintended downstream consequences such as increased nitrogen leaching or greenhouse gas release. To quantify such trade-offs among ecosystem services and to identify optimal agricultural management practices, an ecosystem model coupling the water, carbon, and nitrogen cycles is studied. The model is forced by stochastic climate and periodic management interventions that include irrigation, fertilization, and harvest.

Steady-state solutions of ecosystems under rotational harvest are developed, demonstrating that these ecosystems operate in a limit-cycle. Under constant fertilization and soil moisture conditions, the model predicts an optimal rotation length associated with maximum yield and maximum ecosystem nitrogen use efficiency. Through plant-soil feedbacks mediated by the harvest, intermediate rotation lengths promote short periods of immobilization, which stimulates mineral nitrogen retention. In these systems, increased soil moisture increases non-productive nitrogen losses, especially under long rotations, where mineral nitrogen availability is greatest. Time-variable water and nitrogen input scenarios are also considered and suggest the possibility of an optimal irrigation-fertilization strategy that balances productivity, which provides an economic benefit, and leaching, which may have consequences for aquatic ecosystems in receiving waters. These results highlight several soil C-N cycle responses to management practices that influence the provision of and trade-off between ecosystem services, namely primary productivity and mineral nitrogen export.