Do maize roots and shoots have different degradability under field conditions? — A field study of 13C resolved CO2 emissions

Hui Xu, Bart Vandecasteele, Pascal Boeckx, Stefaan De Neve, Steven Sleutel

Onderzoeksoutput: Bijdrage aan tijdschriftA1: Web of Science-artikelpeer review


Long-term field experiments have confirmed belowground plant carbon (C) to be two to three times more efficient precursor of soil organic carbon (SOC) than aboveground plant residues. But it remains elusive just when this belowground biomass is relatively stabilized against mineralization: during the initial fast degradation, or on the longer term? A one-year field experiment was set up with biweekly follow-up of the in-situ mineralization of maize (Zea mays L.) C-inputs, either above- or belowground biomass based on soil δ13C resolved CO2 emissions. In addition, a treatment with maize roots and post-harvest remnant rhizodeposited-C left undisturbed in the field was included as well as a corresponding control that was physically disturbance as in the other treatments. We found that most maize-C was mineralized within a year with peaks in late fall and spring, i.e. 1 and 8 months after incorporation. Shoot-C decomposed only 1.4 times faster than root-C though statistically insignificant, which shows that on the short term (i.e. within a single year) the 2–3 fold stability of belowground biomass C is not manifested. Total maize-derived CO2 emissions of soil amended with only roots and with roots and post-harvest rhizodeposits were equal, likely because the rhizodeposited-C had already degraded quickly. A much smaller share of root- and rhizodeposited-C (43%) was mineralized when soil was not disturbed after harvest. We hypothesize that such a delayed physical disturbance, which in practice would only occur in early spring, could be key in stabilizing belowground biomass C in the field. Overall, our findings show a limited difference in degradability of roots and shoots under field conditions on the short term, and a large effect of tillage timing.
Oorspronkelijke taalEngels
TijdschriftAgriculture Ecosystems & Environment
PublicatiestatusGepubliceerd - 1-okt.-2021


  • Decomposition
  • In-situ soil respiration
  • Rhizodeposits
  • Soil organic carbon
  • δ13C-CO2


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