Basalt addition improves the performance of young grassland monocultures under more persistent weather featuring longer dry and wet spells
Simon Reynaert, Arthur Vienne, Hans J De Boeck, Tommy D’Hose, Ivan Janssens, Ivan Nijs, Miguel Portillo-Estrada, Erik Verbruggen, Sara Vicca, Sílvia Poblador
Global warming is altering the intra-annual variability of precipitation patterns in the mid-latitudes, including a shift towards longer dry and wet spells compared to historic averages. Such fluctuations will likely alter soil water and nutrient dynamics of managed ecosystems which could negatively influence their functioning (e.g., productivity and fodder quality). Here, we investigated whether basalt addition could attenuate effects of increasingly persistent precipitation regimes (PR) on two agricultural grassland monocultures differing in drought resistance (low: Lolium perenne (LP) vs high: Festulolium (FL)) and digestibility (high: LP, low: FL), while improving soil C sequestration. In total, 32 experimental mesocosms were subjected to either a low (1-day wet/dry alternation) or a highly (30-day wet/dry alternation) persistent PR over 120 days, keeping total precipitation equal. In half of these mesocosms, we mixed basalt with the top 20 cm soil layer at a rate of 50 t ha−1. Overall, 30-day PR increased average water availability resulting in improved aboveground biomass and shoot digestibility for both species, in spite of elevated physiological stress. These PR also increased shoot Si, K, N and C but reduced Ca accumulation. Basalt addition generally increased soil Al, Ni, Mg, Ca, P, K and Si availability without altering root biomass or total soil carbon. Moreover, differences in root N content and C:N ratio between species were reduced. Interestingly, basalt modified the PR effects on productivity. Within 30-day PR, basalt stimulated aboveground biomass (±14%) and root Si and K contents without altering plant digestibility, palatability, crude protein content or Ni/Al content. These results indicate that basalt can stimulate grassland productivity and soil nutrient availability under more persistent PR without negatively affecting fodder quality. Hence, basalt application may improve the performance of young temperate grassland monocultures under climate change, though dry soil conditions may limit effects on soil C sequestration during summer.