Long‐term zero‐tillage enhances the protection of soil carbon in tropical agriculture

Cooper, H. V.; Sjögersten, S.; Lark, R. M.; Girkin, N.T; Vane, C.H. ORCID:; Calonego, J.C.; Rosolem, C; Mooney, S. J.. 2021 Long‐term zero‐tillage enhances the protection of soil carbon in tropical agriculture. European Journal of Soil Science, 72 (6). 2477-2492.

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Contrasting tillage strategies not only affect the stability and formation of soil aggregates but also modify the concentration and thermostability of soil organic matter associated with soil aggregates. Understanding the thermostability and carbon retention ability of aggregates under different tillage systems is essential to ascertain potential terrestrial carbon storage. We characterised the concentration and thermostability of soil organic carbon (SOC) within various aggregate size classes under both zero and conventional tillage using novel Rock‐Eval pyrolysis. The nature of the pore systems was visualised and quantified by X‐ray Computed Tomography to link soil structure to organic carbon preservation and thermostability. Soil samples were collected from experimental fields in Botucatu, Brazil, which had been under zero‐tillage for 2, 15 and 31 years, along with adjacent fields under conventional tillage. Soils under zero‐tillage significantly increased pore connectivity whilst simultaneously decreasing inter‐aggregate porosity, providing a potential physical mechanism for protection of soil organic carbon in the 0‐20 cm soil layer. Changes in the soil physical characteristics associated with the adoption of zero‐tillage resulted in improved aggregate formation compared to conventionally tilled soils, especially when implemented for at least 15 years. In addition, we identified a chemical change in composition of organic carbon to a more recalcitrant fraction following conversion to zero‐tillage, suggesting aggregates were accumulating rather than mineralising soil organic carbon. These data reveal profound effects of different tillage systems upon soil structural modification, with important implications for the potential of zero‐tillage to increase carbon sequestration compared to conventional tillage.

Item Type: Publication - Article
Digital Object Identifier (DOI):
ISSN: 1351-0754
Date made live: 23 Apr 2021 15:30 +0 (UTC)

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