Effects of forest-based bioenergy feedstock production on shallow groundwater quality of a drained forest soil

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Managed forests in southern U.S. are a potential source of lignocellulosic biomass for biofuel production. Changes in management practices to optimize biomass production may impact the quality of waters draining to nutrient-sensitive waters in coastal plain regions. We investigated shallow groundwater quality effects of intercropping switchgrass (Panicum virgatum L.) with managed loblolly pine (Pinus taeda L.) to produce bioenergy feedstock and quality sawtimber in a poorly drained soil of eastern North Carolina, U.S.A. Treatments included PINE (traditional pine production), PSWITCH (pine-switchgrass intercropped), SWITCH (switchgrass monoculture) and REF (mature loblolly pine stand). Each treatment was replicated three times on 0.8 ha plots drained by parallel-open ditches, 1.0–1.2 m deep and 100 m apart. Water samples were collected monthly or more frequently after fertilizer application. Water samples were analyzed for organic nitrogen (ON), ammonium N (NH4+- N), and nitrite+nitrate N (NO3−+ NO2−- N), ortohophosphate phosphorus (OP), and total organic carbon (TOC). Overall, PSWITCH did not significantly affect shallow groundwater quality relative to PINE and SWITCH. ON, NO3−+ NO2−- N, and TOC concentrations in PSWITCH, PINE and SWITCH were substantially elevated during the two years after tree harvest and site establishment. The elevated nutrient concentrations at the beginning of the study were likely caused by a combination of rapid organic matter decomposition of the abundant supply of post-harvest residues, warming of exposed soil surfaces and reduction of plant nutrient uptake that can occur after harvesting, and pre-plant fertilization. Nutrient concentrations returned to background levels observed in REF during the third year after harvest.




Cacho, J. F., Youssef, M. A., Chescheir, G. M., Wayne Skaggs, R., Appelboom, T. W., Leggett, Z. H., … Arellano, C. (2018). Effects of forest-based bioenergy feedstock production on shallow groundwater quality of a drained forest soil. Science of the Total Environment, 631632, 13–22. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.scitotenv.2018.03.020

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