PRS Publications

Adding carbon at a standard and a higher rate reduces soil nitrate in a grassy woodland.

Morris, E. C., & Gibson and Roy, P.. 2019.


C addition has been used successfully in grassland restoration in Australia, generally as sucrose at a standard rate of 840 g C/m2/year. Previous experiments that have varied the rate of soil carbon application to reduce nitrate to favour native over nitrophilous exotic species have found that the benefits can increase over the whole range used for some native species, but only appear above particular rates of C addition for others. A restoration trial of degraded grassy woodland on former agricultural land in western Sydney combined burning and slashing to remove biomass with C addition at the standard rate, and a high rate, to reduce soil nitrate on the burnt or slashed plots. Soil was sampled for extractable nitrate, ammonium and phosphorus, and plant root simulator probes were used to measure nitrate and ammonium supply. Both extractable nitrate and nitrate supply were periodically high in the controls, at which times C addition at the standard rate significantly reduced extractable nitrate with an even greater reduction at the high rate, and resulted in negative relationships between nitrate supply and added C. Effects of added C on extractable nitrate or nitrate supply were not detectable in non-peak periods. Extractable ammonium and ammonium supply were either unaffected or increased with added C. Colwell phosphorus showed temporal variation but was unresponsive to added C. Of the three nutrients, only the decline in nitrate matched the decline in plant cover which was lowest in value at the high carbon rate (Morris & Gibson-Roy 2018). In the absence of added C, extractable nitrate was less than control values in the fire and slash treatments 1 year after treatment applica- tion but was similar to control values at other times.

Key Words

Cumberland Plain woodland, grassland restoration, grassy woodland, reverse fertilisation, soil C addition, soil nitrate.