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Soil organic matter dynamics in pasture-sugarcane land use conversions in south-central Brazil

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Dener Marcio da Silva Oliveira
Total Authors: 1
Document type: Doctoral Thesis
Press: Piracicaba.
Institution: Universidade de São Paulo (USP). Escola Superior de Agricultura Luiz de Queiroz
Defense date:
Examining board members:
Carlos Eduardo Pellegrino Cerri; Miguel Cooper; Newton La Scala Junior; Carlos Alberto Silva; Mariana Delgado Oliveira Zenero
Advisor: Carlos Eduardo Pellegrino Cerri

Land use change (LUC) induces modifications on soil organic matter (SOM), which is one of the main source of uncertainty in life cycle assessments of biofuels. In Brazil, currently the world largest producer of sugarcane and second biggest producer of bioethanol, the potential negative effects of LUC has raised doubts about the sugarcane ethanol as a sustainable option. Recently, most of sugarcane expansion has been placed over extensive pastures. Therefore, we conducted a field study within the south-central Brazil, the largest sugarcane-producing region in the world, to evaluate the effects of the most common LUC sequence in sugarcane expansion areas (i.e., conversions from native vegetation to pasture and from pasture to sugarcane) on SOM. Our main hypothesis is that the conversion of degraded pastures to unburnt sugarcane enhance SOM quantity and quality from sites in Brazil. Long-term conversion from native vegetation to pasture induced significant C stock losses (1.01 Mg ha-1 yr-1). In contrast, the conversion from pasture to sugarcane increased C stocks at a rate of 1.97 Mg ha-1 yr-1 down to 0-1.0 m depth. In addition, our findings indicated that SOM assessments restricted to the surface soil layers can generate bias in studies regarding LUC. The main difference in SOM molecular composition undergoing the conversion pasture-sugarcane was the notably higher contribution from compounds associated to fresh litter inputs in sugarcane areas, probably related to the high litter input in sugarcane fields under green management in Brazil. The conversion of areas under native vegetation to pasture decreases both the labile C (LC) and the C management index (CMI), whilst the conversion of pasture to sugarcane increased the CMI according to all evaluated methods. Additionally, the method used to quantify LC and CMI is critical to infer about the LUC effects on SOM. The DayCent model estimated that the conversion native vegetation-pasture caused C losses of 0.34±0.03 Mg ha-1 yr-1, whilst the conversion pasture-sugarcane resulted in C gains of 0.16±0.04 Mg ha-1 yr-1 down to 0.3 m depth. Moreover, simulations showed C decreases of 0.19±0.04 Mg ha-1 yr-1 in sugarcane areas with straw removal for second-generation (2G) ethanol production. However, our analysis suggested that adoption of some best management practices can mitigate these losses, highlighting the application of organic amendments (+0.14±0.03 Mg C ha-1 yr-1). Overall, our study showed that the conversion of pastures to sugarcane has positive effects on SOM quantity and quality, increasing the C savings of Brazilian sugarcane ethanol. Moreover, our findings endorse the potential of sugarcane production to partially recover SOM in degraded pastures. However, most of these gains greatly depends on the high litter input in sugarcane fields under green management, and straw removal for 2G ethanol production is likely to potentially affect SOM in areas of sugarcane expansion in Brazil. Finally, based on land availability and positive effects on SOM, we believe that stakeholders involved with the governance of bioethanol expansion should consider ways to incentivize sugarcane expansion on degraded pastures in Brazil. (AU)

FAPESP's process: 14/08632-9 - Soil organic matter in land use change areas under sugarcane cultivation in south central region of Brazil
Grantee:Dener Márcio da Silva Oliveira
Support type: Scholarships in Brazil - Doctorate