PRS Publications

Can permanent grassland soils with elevated organic carbon buffer negative effects of more persistent precipitation regimes on forage grass performance?

Reynaert, S., T. D' Hose, H. J. De Boeck, D. Laorden, L. Dult, E. Verbruggen and I Nijs. 2024.


Agricultural practices enhancing soil organic carbon (SOC) show potential to buffer negative effects of climate change on forage grass performance. We tested this by subjecting five forage grass varieties differing in fodder quality and drought/flooding resistance to increased persistence in summer precipitation regimes (PR) across sandy and sandy-loam soils from either permanent (high SOC) or temporary grasslands (low SOC) in adjacent parcels. Over the course of two consecutive summers, monoculture mesocosms were subjected to rainy/dry weather alternation either every 3 days or every 30 days, whilst keeping total precipitation equal. Increased PR persistence induced species-specific drought damage and productivity declines. Soils from permanent grasslands with elevated SOC buffered plant quality, but buffering effects of SOC on drought damage, nutrient availability and yield differed between texture classes. In the more persistent PR, Festuca arundinacea FERMINA was the most productive species but had the lowest quality under both ample water supply and mild soil drought, whilst under the most intense soil droughts, Festulolium FESTILO maintained the highest yields. The hybrid Lolium x boucheanum kunth MELCOMBI had intermediate productivity and both Lolium perenne varieties showed the lowest yields under soil drought, but the highest forage quality (especially the tetraploid variety MELFORCE). Performance varied with plant maturity stage and across seasons/years and was driven by altered water and nutrient availability and related nitrogen nutrition among species during drought and upon rewetting. Moreover, whilst permanent grassland soils showed the most consistent positive effects on plant performance, their available water capacity also declined under increased PR persistence. We conclude that permanent grassland soils with historically elevated SOC likely buffer negative effects of increasing summer weather persistence on forage grass performance, but may also be more sensitive to degradation under climate change.

Key Words

Soil organic carbon Land-use history Weather persistence Soil degradation Intensive grassland Forage quality