Impacts of land use change to short rotation forestry for bioenergy on soil greenhouse gas emissions and soil carbon
Short Rotation Forestry (SRF) for bioenergy could be used to meet biomass requirements and contribute to achieving renewable energy targets. As an important source of biomass it is important to gain an understanding of the implications of large-scale application of SRF on the soil-atmosphere greenhouse gas (GHG) exchange. This study examined the effects of land use change (LUC) from grassland to SRF on soil fluxes of methane (CH4), nitrous oxide (N2O) and carbon dioxide (CO2), and the important drivers in action. Examining soils from a range of sites across the UK, CO2 emission potentials were reduced under SRF with differences between coniferous and broadleaved transitions; these changes were found to be related to changes in soil pH and microbial biomass. However, there were limited effects of SRF tree species type on CH4 and N2O fluxes. A detailed study at an experimental SRF site over 16 months demonstrated a reduction in CH4 and net CO2 emissions from soils under SRF and revealed intriguing temporal dynamics of N2O under Sitka spruce and common alder. A significant proportion of the variation in soil N2O fluxes was attributed to differences between tree species, water table depth, spatial effects, and their interactions. The effects of microtopography (ridges, troughs, flats), and its interactions with water table depth on soil GHG fluxes under different tree species was tested using mesocosm cores collected in the field. Microtopography did not significantly affect soil GHG fluxes but trends suggested that considering this spatial factor in sampling regimes could be important. N2O fluxes from Sitka spruce soils did not respond to water table depth manipulation in the laboratory suggesting that they may also be determined by tree-driven nitrogen (N) availability, with other research showing N deposition to be higher in coniferous plantations. An N addition experiment lead to increased N2O emissions with greatest relative response in the Sitka spruce soils. Overall, LUC from rough grassland to SRF resulted in a reduction in soil CH4 emissions, increased N2O emissions and a reduction or no change in net CO2 emissions. These changes in emissions were influenced both directly and indirectly by tree species type with Sitka spruce having the greatest effect on N2O in particular, thus highlighting the importance of considering soil N2O emissions in any life cycle analysis or GHG budgets of LUC to SRF for bioenergy. This research can help inform decisions around SRF tree species selection in future large-scale bioenergy planting.