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Can conservation tillage mitigate climate change impacts in Mediterranean cereal systems? A soil organic carbon assessment using long term experiments

Iocola, Ileana, Bassu, Simona, Farina, Roberta, Antichi, Daniele, Basso, Bruno, Bindi, Marco, Dalla Marta, Anna, Danuso, Francesco, Doro, Luca, Ferrise, Roberto, Giglio, Luisa, Ginaldi, Fabrizio, Mazzoncini, Marco, Mula, Laura, Orsini, Roberto, Corti, Giuseppe, Pasqui, Massimiliano, Seddaiu, Giovanna, Tomozeiu, Rodica, Ventrella, Domenico, Villani, Giulia, Roggero, Pier Paolo
European journal of agronomy 2017 v.90 pp. 96-107
Triticum turgidum subsp. durum, Zea mays, climate, climate change, corn, correlation, cover crops, crop models, data collection, durum wheat, long term experiments, multivariate analysis, no-tillage, prediction, reduced tillage, simulation models, soil organic carbon, statistical models, Italy
Simulation models, informed and validated with datasets from long term experiments (LTEs), are considered useful tools to explore the effects of different management strategies on soil organic carbon (SOC) dynamics and evaluate suitable mitigative options for climate change. But, while there are several studies which assessed a better prediction of crop yields using an ensemble of models, no studies are currently available on the evaluation of a model ensemble on SOC stocks. In this study we assessed the advantages of using an ensemble of crop models (APSIM-NWheat, DSSAT, EPIC, SALUS), calibrated and validated with datasets from LTEs, to estimate SOC dynamics. Then we used the mean of the model ensemble to assess the impacts of climate change on SOC stocks under conventional (CT) and conservation tillage practices (NT: No Till; RT: Reduced Tillage). The assessment was completed for two long-term experiment sites (Agugliano – AN and Pisa – PI2 sites) in Italy under rainfed conditions. A durum wheat (Triticum turgidum subsp. durum (Desf.) Husn.) – maize (Zea mays L.) rotation system was evaluated under two different climate scenarios over the periods 1971–2000 (CP: Present Climate) and 2021–2050 (CF: Future Climate), generated by setting up a statistical model based on canonical correlation analysis. Our study showed a decrease of SOC stocks in both sites and tillage systems over CF when compared with CP. At the AN site, CT lost −7.3% and NT −7.9% of SOC stock (0–40cm) under CF. At the PI2 site, CT lost −4.4% and RT −5.3% of SOC stocks (0–40cm). Even if conservation tillage systems were more impacted under future scenarios, they were still able to store more SOC than CT, so that these practices can be considered viable options to mitigate climate change. Furthermore, at the AN site, under CF, NT demonstrated an annual increase of 0.4%, the target value suggested by the 4 per thousand initiative launched at the 21st meeting of the Conference of the Parties in Paris. However, RT at the PI2 needs to be coupled with other management strategies, as the introduction of cover crops, to achieve such target.