Top-dressings of composted municipal biosolids (CMB) increase nutrient concentrations in soil and clippings and enhance turfgrass color, quality, and growth (Garling and Boehm, 2001; Hansen et al., 2007; Johnson et al., 2005). In addition, incorporation of large, volume-based rates of CMB amendments reduce soil bulk density, sod weight, and the portion of native soil removed in sod harvests (Vietor et al., 2007). Moreover, the volume-based rates of CMB, which are recommended for remediation of low-quality soils on urban landscapes, contribute to increased concentrations of soil organic carbon (SOC) within amended depths (Hansen et al., 2007; Vietor et al., 2007; Wright et al., 2005). Increased SOC enhances water infiltration and soil water retention compared with soil without CMB during production and after transplanting of sod (Boyle et al., 1989; Johnson et al., 2006).
Organic C applied as CMB or CMB-amended sod could contribute to greater short- and long-term C storage in urban soils than organic C from clippings and sod transplanted from turfgrass grown with inorganic fertilizers (Pouyat et al., 2006). Short-term storage of large amounts of organic C was documented previously for volume-based CMB rates on turf. Concentrations of SOC increased as CMB rates increased from 0 to 160 mg·ha−1, but SOC remained relatively constant for each rate over a period of 10 months after CMB application (Wright et al., 2005). In addition to the added CMB, turfgrass clippings and decaying biomass below the clipping height could have contributed to short-term C storage. Over the long term (50 years), CENTURY model simulations indicated turfgrass systems were a potential C sink in western Colorado without CMB amendments (Bandaranayake et al., 2003).
The apparent benefits of CMB must be weighed against potential negative environmental impacts, including runoff and leaching of nutrients (Hansen et al., 2007; Hay et al., 2007). For example, increased SOC can contribute to increased dissolved organic C (DOC) concentration and greater solubility and movement of zinc and other nutrients in soil (Royer et al., 2007; Wright et al., 2005). The decomposition of SOC contributes to increases in soil DOC, but deposition and decay of turfgrass clippings and biomass are other potential DOC sources.
Although not quantified in previous studies of compost-amended turfgrass (Wright et al., 2005), methods are available for evaluating effects of CMB and turfgrass sources of organic matter on SOC dynamics. Variation of the natural abundance of stable C isotopes (13C/12C), measured in relation to a reference value as δ13C, can be used to quantify sources and turnover of SOC (Boutton, 1996). The δ13C values of plants with the C3 photosynthetic pathway are relatively low compared with those of plants with the C4 pathway. The δ13C values of CMB used in this study were relatively low and similar to values observed in tissues of C3 plants (–25‰ to –27‰). In contrast, the δ13C values of clippings of Tifway bermudagrass, a C4 turfgrass, were relatively high (–13‰ to –15‰). The contrasting δ13C values of CMB and bermudagrass provided a unique opportunity for evaluating short-term changes of SOC in turfgrass sod amended with CMB. The objectives of this study were to: 1) compare SOC storage between CMB and fertilizer-grown sod after transplanting; 2) monitor changes in SOC storage over time; and 3) use δ13C values of SOC to evaluate C sources and dynamics during establishment of transplanted sod.
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