Applied soybean and maize residue contributions to soil organic matter in a temperate soybean/maize intercropping system
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Intercropping, defined as two or more crops grown on the same land area at the same time, is a sustainable alternative to sole crops. Intercropping has been associated with multiple benefits, such as increased nutrient and soil organic carbon (SOC) cycling, decreased soil erosion and increased carbon (C) sequestration. A common intercropping practice is to integrate cereal and legume crops such as maize (Zea mays L.), and soybean (Glycine max (L.) Merr.). Most studies on intercropping have focused on yield, weed control, and land use efficiency in the tropics. Few studies have researched C and nitrogen (N) dynamics in temperate intercrops, with respect to soybean and maize residue stabilization. Soil from Balcarce, Argentina, was incubated for 140 days with soybean, maize, or no residue. Throughout the incubation, results illustrated the effect of residue application upon the soil, specifically through significantly higher amounts of light fraction (LF) C and LFN concentrations, soil microbial biomass (SMB) C and SMBN concentrations, higher microbial diversity, lower N2O production rates, in addition to distinct isotopic values in soil fractions and CO2 (p<0.05). Furthermore, it was observed from δ15N-TN and δ15N-LF that treatments with soybean residues included had higher N cycling (p<0.05), emphasizing the importance of including N-fixing legumes in complex agroecosystems. Significant changes over time in SMB and SMCS characteristics, and isotope values (p<0.05) indicated the preferential utilization of relatively young and easily accessible litter. Furthermore, the loss of labile material over the incubation resulted in more recalcitrant forms (such as older C and lignin) to be utilized. Slightly higher SOC, TN, LFC and LFN concentrations, as well as lower CO2 production rates suggested 2:3 (rows of maize:rows of soybean) as a more desirable intercrop design for C sequestration. The 1:2 intercrop design was observed to be more beneficial for microbial community structure, furthering the idea that intercropping is a beneficial alternative to sole cropping. This study improves knowledge in residue stabilization and C sequestration in complex agroecosystems, providing encouragement for the implementation of more sustainable management practices.