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Impact of agricultural management on soil aggregates and associated organic carbon fractions: analysis of long-term experiments in Europe
Journal Contribution - Journal Article
Inversion tillage is a commonly applied soil cultivation practice in Europe, which often has been blamed for deteriorating topsoil stability and organic carbon (OC) content. In this study, the potential to reverse these negative effects in the topsoil by alternative agricultural management practices are evaluated in seven long-term experiments (running from 8 to 54 years the moment of sampling) in five European countries (Belgium, Czech Republic, Hungary, Italy and UK). Topsoil samples (0–15 cm) were collected and analysed to evaluate the effects of conservation tillage (reduced and no tillage) and increased organic inputs of different origin (farmyard manure, compost, crop residues) combined with inversion tillage on topsoil stability, soil aggregates and, within these, OC distribution using wet sieving after slaking. Effects from the treatments on the two main components of organic matter, i.e. particulate (POM) and mineral associated (MAOM), were also evaluated using dispersion and size fractionation. Reduced and no-tillage practices, as well as the additions of manure or compost, increased the aggregates mean weight diameter (MWD) (up to 49 % at the Belgian study site) and topsoil OC (up to 51 % at the Belgian study site), as well as the OC corresponding to the different aggregate size fractions. The incorporation of crop residues had a positive impact on the MWD but a less profound effect both on total OC and on OC associated with the different aggregates. A negative relationship between the mass and the OC content of the microaggregates (53–250 µm) was identified in all experiments. There was no effect on the mass of the macroaggregates and the occluded microaggregates (mM) within these macroaggregates, while the corresponding OC contents increased with less tillage and more organic inputs. Inversion tillage led to less POM within the mM, whereas the different organic inputs did not affect it. In all experiments where the total POM increased, the total soil organic carbon (SOC) was also affected positively. We concluded that the negative effects of inversion tillage on topsoil can be mitigated by reducing the tillage intensity or adding organic materials, optimally combined with non-inversion tillage methods.
Pages: 621 - 644