Management, environment, and agroecosystem type are key factors influencing photosynthetic carbon (C) uptake and C use efficiency (CUE), calculated as the ratio of net ecosystem production to gross ecosystem production (NEP:GEP). Current literature has mainly emphasized annual C balance in studies involving multiple years with continuous monitoring of ecosystem C fluxes, yet CUE has not been thoroughly analyzed during the growing season, particularly in paired comparisons of contrasting types of pasture under semiarid conditions. From 2009 through 2013, we used eddy covariance method to determine daily, seasonal, and annual C budgets in rainfed alfalfa ( Medicago sativa L.) and grass ecosystems subjected to periodic harvest (haying) near Mandan, North Dakota, USA. We found consistently higher magnitudes of C fluxes (ecosystem respiration [ER], NEP, GEP) and hay production in alfalfa than grassland. Leaf area and canopy nitrogen content per unit land area were key driving factors for daily, seasonal, and annual differences in C fluxes between agroecosystems. Net ecosystem C balance indicated C losses occurred through haying in both ecosystems, though no changes in soil C stocks were detected in either ecosystem over the course of the study. Mean NEP:GEP ratios (±standard error) during periods of steady carbon dioxide (CO 2 ) uptake before and after haying were 0.43 ± 0.01 and 0.26 ± 0.03 for alfalfa and grassland, respectively, implying more efficient C use in the former. Moreover, alfalfa had consistently greater CUE than grassland despite variations in sunlight, temperature, and precipitation within and between growing seasons. Ratios of ER to GEP were also repeatedly lower in alfalfa than grassland in all five growing seasons. Under drought conditions, we infer alfalfa roots accessed water in the soil profile unavailable to more shallow-rooted grass species. Overall, hayed alfalfa was more efficient and tolerant than grassland in assimilating and using atmospheric CO 2 under variable intra- and inter-seasonal conditions. Outcomes from this study suggest the inclusion of alfalfa in unirrigated crop rotations can sustain high CUE, C uptake, and hay production while mitigating C losses in a semiarid environment.
Energy, Environment Protection, Nuclear Power Engineering