Prairie ecosystems and the carbon problem

  • DeLuca T
  • Zabinski C
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There has been great interest in carbon (C) storage in terrestrial landscapes and the potential for trading C released during fossil-fuel combustion for C stored in agricultural landscapes. This is particularly important in the Great Plains of North America, where increased C storage under conservation tillage represents millions of dollars in C credits. However, we contend that the logic behind such trading is imperfect on multiple levels. We suggest that increased C storage in Great Plains soils with conservation tillage can, at best, only partially replenish what was previously emitted by tillage of native prairies. Furthermore, there is disagreement on whether reduced tillage actually does increase C storage in prairie soils. Use of alternative agricultural practices that emulate natural prairie diversity, processes, and function, as well as the establishment of permanent prairie reserves, will aid in recovery of previously lost C and provide for increased biodiversity and resilience in the face of changing climate conditions.

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