SIMBIOSYS Project: Soil carbon sequestration during the establishment-phase of Miscanthus x giganteus

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Resource or Project Abstract

In recent years the use of biomass for energy production has become an increasingly important measure for mitigating global change. While national and EU legislation strongly advocate the further development of the bioenergy sector, the scientific debate has been inconclusive. There is particular concern that land-use change to bioenergy production can lead to CO2 emissions. These emissions result from the loss of vegetation and the soil disturbance when ploughing natural ecosystems and pastures as a preparation for planting bioenergy crops. A possible solution is to use perennial energy crops such as willow or Miscanthus. Recent research on experimental fields has shown a high soil carbon sequestration potential across Europe; however, it can be expected that sequestration rates will differ on commercial plantations.

The aim of this study was to assess the factors influencing soil carbon sequestration under commercial Miscanthus plantations. An initial survey was conducted on 16 farms in south-east Ireland planted in 2006/2007 using the 13C natural abundance method to identify Miscanthus-derived carbon stocks. Annual carbon sequestration rates were 0.62 Mg ha-1±0.59 SD and 0.90 Mg ha-1 ±0.53 SD on former tillage and former grassland, respectively, close to values reported in earlier literature. Mixed effects modelling identified former land-use (grassland or tillage), initial soil organic carbon content, and pH as main explanatory variables for variability in total soil organic and Miscanthus-derived carbon. A comparison with the adjacent former land-use also showed that soil organic carbon losses due to land-use change were not significant.

To analyse the fate of newly sequestered carbon a soil fractionation experiment was performed. The fraction with which the soil organic carbon is associated has a significant impact on decomposability and turn-over time. The results showed the freshly sequestered carbon is mainly found as particulate organic matter (76.9 %), and therefore is in a labile state with short turn-over times. The experiment furthermore shows no significant differences in the distribution of the different soil fractions and soil organic carbon distribution between the Miscanthus and the control sites, representing the former land-use.

At the field scale, a significant number of commercial Miscanthus plantations showed a large number of open patches, possibly impacting crop yield and soil carbon sequestration. Significantly lower Miscanthus-derived carbon values were found in the open patches compared to adjacent high density Miscanthus patches (1.51 ±0.31 Mg ha-1 and 2.78 ±0.25 Mg ha-1, respectively). Using satellite imagery, remote sensing analysis revealed an average loss of 13.69 % ±4.71 SD of the cropped area, leading to a reduction of 7.38 % ±7.34 SD in Miscanthus-derived carbon on a field scale. Using a net present value model and a financial balance approach it could be shown that the patchiness can significantly increase the payback time of the initial investment and reduce the gross margin by up to over 50%.

In conclusion, the analyses show significant carbon sequestration in young commercial Miscanthus sites. However, as the majority of that Miscanthus-derived carbon is still in a labile state, the Miscanthus should be grown on a longer time-scale to ensure benefits. Additionally it was shown, that the introduction of Miscanthus to grasslands does not lead to a significant loss of already existing soil organic carbon, and that one time ploughing events associated with Miscanthus introduction do not lead to a significant disturbance of soil aggregation. Finally it was shown that crop patchiness on a field-scale has a significant impact on crop yield and the formation of Miscanthus-derived carbon stocks.

The data uploaded from this project is divided into three datasets based on papers published in peer reviewed international journals - see below for details:

Paper 1: Zimmermann, J., Dauber, J. and Jones, M. B. (2012), Soil carbon sequestration during the establishment phase of Miscanthus × giganteus: a regional-scale study on commercial farms using13C natural abundance. GCB Bioenergy, 4: 453?461. doi: 10.1111/j.1757-1707.2011.01117.x

Paper 2: Zimmermann, J., Styles, D., Hastings, A., Dauber, J. and Jones, M. B. (2013), Assessing the impact of within crop heterogeneity (?patchiness?) in young Miscanthus × giganteus fields on economic feasibility and soil carbon sequestration. GCB Bioenergy. doi: 10.1111/gcbb.12084

Paper 3: Zimmermann, J., Dondini, M. and Jones, M. B. (2013), Assessing the impacts of the establishment of Miscanthus on soil organic carbon on two contrasting land-use types in Ireland. European Journal of Soil Science. doi: 10.1111/ejss.12087

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Contact Information for This Resource

Dr. Jesko Zimmerman
Trinity College Dublin

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Data, Files, Information Objects Related To This Project Resource

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Access Information For This Resource

SAFER-Data Display URL
Resource Keywordscarbon sequestration, energy crops, land-use change, Miscanthus,
EPA/ERTDI/STRIVE Project Code2007-B-CD-1-S1
EPA/ERTDI/STRIVE Project ThemeBiodiversity
Resource Availability: Non Owner-Users Cannot Download Files from This Resource
Limitations on the use of this ResourceTime restrictions based on publishing peer reviewed articles from this research are requested.
Please contact Dr Jesko Zimmermann for more details
Number of Attached Files (Publicly and Openly Available for Download): 0
Project Start Date Tuesday 1st April 2008 (01-04-2008)
Earliest Recorded Date within any attached datasets or digital objects Monday 1st September 2008 (01-09-2008)
Most Recent Recorded Date within any attached datasets or digital objects Sunday 30th June 2013 (30-06-2013)
Published on SAFERFriday 18th October 2013 (18-10-2013)
Date of Last EditMonday 21st October 2013 at 15:36:18 (21-10-2013)
Datasets or Files Updated On Friday 18th October 2013 at 19:27:29 (18-10-2013)

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Geographical and Spatial Information Related To This Resource

Description of Geographical Characteristics of This Project or Dataset
Data were collected from 16 farms in south east Ireland planted with Miscanthus x giganteus. Eight of the plantations were established on grassland and eight on tilled land.

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Supplementary Information About This Resource

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Lineage information about this project or dataset
The SIMBIOSYS Project investigated the impacts that human activity have on biodiversity and ecological functioning, and the associated benefits of biodiversity to human society, that is, ecosystem services. Three expanding sectors of enterprise were addressed in the project: (i) the cultivation of bioenergy crops; (ii) the landscaping of road corridors; and (iii) the aquaculture of sea-food. Field-based studies quantified biodiversity at the genetic, species and habitat levels under current commercial regimes, compared with traditional practices, and investigated ecosystem service delivery in all three sectors. The SIMBIOSYS Project has been a four-and-a-half-year research effort, involving six leading academics in four institutions, six PhD students, eleven research assistants at graduate and postdoctoral level, more than twenty MSc and undergraduate students and many other academic collaborators, both in Ireland and overseas.
Supplementary Information
Links To Other Related Resources
SIMBIOSYS Project Website: (Opens in a new window)

SIMBIOSYS Synthesis Report: (Opens in a new window)

Links to papers (Zimmermann et al.) from this research: (Opens in a new window)

PhD Thesis Jesko Zimmermann: (Opens in a new window)

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