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Nitrogen (N) fertilization significantly affects soil extracellular oxidases, agents responsible for decomposition of slow turnover and recalcitrant soil organic carbon (SOC; e.g., lignin), and consequently influences soil carbon sequestration capacity. However, it remains unclear how soil oxidases mediate SOC sequestration under N fertilization, and whether these effects co-vary with plant type (e.g., bioenergy crop species). Using a spatially explicit design and intensive soil sampling strategy under three fertilization treatments in switchgrass (SG: Panicum virgatum L.) and gamagrass (GG: Tripsacum dactyloides L.) croplands, we quantified the activities of polyphenolic oxidase (PHO), peroxidase (PER), and their sum associated with recalcitrant C acquisition (OX). The fertilization treatments included no N fertilizer input (NN), low N input (LN: 84 kg N ha−1 year−1 in urea), and high N input (HN: 168 kg N ha−1 year−1 in urea). Besides correlations between soil oxidases and SOC (formerly published), both descriptive and geostatistical approaches were applied to evaluate the effects of N fertilization and crop type on soil oxidases activities and their spatial distributions. Results showed significantly negative correlations between soil oxidase activities and SOC across all treatments. The negative relationship of soil oxidases and SOC was also evident under N fertilization. First, LN significantly depressed oxidases in both mean activities and spatial heterogeneity, which corresponded to increased SOC in SG (though by 5.4%). LN slightly influenced oxidases activities and their spatial heterogeneity, consistent with insignificant changes of SOC in GG. Second, HN showed trends of decrease in soil oxidase activities, which aligned with the significantly enhanced SOC in both croplands. Overall, this study demonstrated that soil oxidase activities acted as sensitive and negative mediators of SOC sequestration in bioenergy croplands and optimizing fertilizer use particularly in switchgrass cropland can improve for both carbon sequestration and environmental benefit.

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