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 mil- lions of dollars in C credits. However, we contend that the logic behind such trading is imperfect on multi- ple 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 dis- agreement 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 establish- ment of permanent prairie reserves, will aid in recovery of previously lost C and provide for increased bio- diversity and resilience in the face of changing climate conditions.

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  • Thomas H. DeLuca

  • Catherine A. Zabinski

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