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Research article2024Peer reviewedOpen access

Evaluating the Tea Bag Index approach for different management practices in agroecosystems using long-term field experiments in Austria and Sweden

Gmach, Maria Regina; Bolinder, Martin Anders; Menichetti, Lorenzo; Katterer, Thomas; Spiegel, Heide; Akesson, Olle; Friedel, Jurgen Kurt; Surbock, Andreas; Schweinzer, Agnes; Sanden, Taru


Litter decomposition is an important factor affecting local and global C cycles. It is known that decomposition through soil microbial activity in ecosystems is mainly influenced by soil type and climatic conditions. However, for agroecosystems, there remains a need for a better understanding of how management practices influence litter decomposition. This study examined the effect of different management practices on decomposition at 29 sites with long-term (mean duration of 38 years) field experiments (LTEs) using the Tea Bag Index (TBI) protocol with standard litter (rooibos and green tea) developed by Keuskamp et al. (2013). The objective was to determine if the TBI decomposition rate ( k ) and stabilization factor ( S ) are sensitive enough to detect differences in litter decomposition between management practices as well as how they interact with edaphic factors, crop type and local climatic conditions. Tea bags were buried and collected after similar to 90 d at 16 Austrian and 13 Swedish sites. The treatments in the Austrian LTEs focused on mineral and organic fertilizer application, tillage systems and crop residue management, whereas those in Sweden addressed cropping systems, mineral fertilizer application and tillage systems. The results for Austria showed that the incorporation of crop residue and high-N fertilizer application increased k , compared with crop residue removal and low or no N application, respectively. Minimum tillage had significantly higher k compared with reduced and conventional tillage. In Sweden, fertilized plots showed higher S than non-fertilized plots and high-N fertilizer had the highest k . Growing spring cereal led to higher k than forage crops. Random forest regressions for Austria and Sweden jointly showed that k and S were mainly governed by climatic conditions, which explained more than 70 % of their variation. However, under similar climatic conditions, management practices strongly influenced decomposition dynamics. It would be appropriate to apply the TBI approach to a more large-scale network using LTEs for agroecosystems, in order to improve the index's usefulness as an indicator of the effect of management practices on litter decomposition dynamics, particularly linking it with the potential for C storage.

Published in

2024, Volume: 10, number: 1, pages: 407-423