Seasonal Changes in Shoot and Root Nitrogen Distribution in Switchgrass (Panicum virgatum)
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Bowden 2014 Bioenergy.pdf
Bowden, Richard D.
Mitchell, Robert B.
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Switchgrass is a promising bioenergy source that is perennial, productive, native to a broad geographic region, and can grow on marginal, nitrogen (N)-poor soils. Understanding N dynamics in switchgrass is critical to predicting productivity, conserving N, and optimizing the timing of harvest. We examined seasonal changes in N distribution in above- and belowground tissues in switchgrass to quantify N retranslocation rates. Above- and belowground biomass from three sites (two in PA and one in NE) were collected and analyzed for biomass growth and N concentrations at 30-day intervals from June through October. Total living plant mass ranged from 10.3 ± 2.4 standard error (SE) to 14.9 ± 2.5 SE Mg ha−1. Belowground mass comprised 52–57 % of total mass. Blades had the highest N concentration during summer, ranging from 6 to 22 g kg−1 N. Aboveground N concentrations decreased from September until autumn senescence, whereas belowground N concentration increased from August until senescence. Across the sites, total N retranslocated from aboveground to belowground components between September and October averaged 16.5 ± 7.1 (SE) kg ha−1 N representing 26.7 % of the average maximum N content of aboveground biomass. Based on N fertilizer costs, delayed harvest would conserve some N and provide financial savings on fertilizer ($9 ha−1) if harvest occurs after senescence but before overwinter biomass loss. However, biomass losses of even 10 % will negate potential economic savings accrued from N retention. To maximize environmental and economic savings from N retranslocation and to simultaneously minimize harvest losses, it would be optimal to harvest switchgrass as soon as possible after complete senescence.