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Simulation of soil organic carbon stocks in a Mediterranean olive grove under different soil-management systems using the RothC model

Nieto, O.M., Castro, J., Fernández, E., Smith, P.
Soil use and management 2010 v.26 no.2 pp. 118-125
Calcisols, Vertisols, agricultural soils, basins, bulk density, carbon, carbon dioxide, carbon sequestration, carbon sinks, clay fraction, cleaning, conventional tillage, greenhouse gas emissions, indigenous species, land use, models, mulching, nitrogen content, olives, pruning, soil organic carbon
Agricultural soils play a very important role in regulating the carbon dioxide (CO₂) content of the atmosphere, and can behave either as carbon sources or sinks. We have simulated the dynamics of carbon in the soil under different land uses and soil-management systems in a Mediterranean olive grove with the Rothamsted carbon (RothC) model. To this end we chose patches of native vegetation (NV) and two different olive grove soils (chromic calcisols and calcic vertisols) under different soil-management systems: conventional tillage (T), and mulching with shredded olive-pruning debris and residues from olive-fruit cleaning (PD + CR). We measured the clay content, bulk density, soil organic carbon (SOC) and total nitrogen (N) in each patch. The SOC and N values decreased by more than 30% as a result of a change in soil use from NV to T olive grove. After adding PD + CR these values rose once more, even to levels above NV. The RothC model performed well for covered soils (NV and PD + CR) but overestimated the SOC values after the soil use was changed from NV to T olive grove, probably due to high carbon losses caused by erosion, common to T soils in the Mediterranean basin. As a result of mulching the soil with only pruning debris, CO₂ emitted to the atmosphere was reduced by >55% for both soils. Associated with this decrease in the emission rate, RothC estimated a potential carbon sequestration of 0.5 and 0.6 t C/ha/yr for chromic calcisols and calcic vertisols, respectively. The reuse of organic debris generated in the olive grove, such as pruning debris and residues from olive-fruit cleaning, is an efficient way of improving soil properties, diminishing CO₂ emissions and increasing the soil's capacity to store carbon.