Contribution of wheat and maize to soil organic carbon in a wheat-maize cropping system: a field and laboratory study.
Retention of crop biomass is widely recommended to improve soil organic carbon (SOC). However, the magnitude of contribution of above-ground residues and below-ground roots from C3 and C4 crops to SOC is unclear. Data from a 10-year field experiment and a 60-day laboratory incubation were synthesized to identify the respective contribution of C3 (e.g., wheat) and C4 (e.g., maize) residues and roots to SOC, as well as its underlying mechanisms under no-till (NT) using 13C labelling trace in wheat-maize rotations. The field experiment showed that residue retention significantly increased SOC accumulation, and SOC derived from wheat was 126.0% higher than that from maize. Conversion to NT promoted SOC derived from wheat and thus accumulated 17.6% higher SOC stock compared with plough tillage (PT) under residue returning at 0-20 cm soil depth (p < 0.05). The data from laboratory incubation revealed the mechanisms that lower priming effects at 0-10 cm depth decreased total mineralization by 91.8% after inputs of wheat residues and roots compared with that of maize residues and roots, especially under NT compared with PT. Priming effects were negatively correlated with enzyme activities associated with the C recycle, SOC, and total nitrogen (TN) contents (p < 0.01). NT increased enzyme activities, SOC, and TN contents and thus reduced priming effects and improved residual carbon. Synthesis and applications. These results suggested that wheat may contribute more to SOC accumulation than maize, and carbon increment efficiency in farmland could be enhanced by considering the crucial roles of C3 crops in SOC accumulation. NT practice sustains the benefits of C3 crops to SOC sequestration in the upper soil depths.