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Carbon fractions as indicators of organic matter dynamics in chestnut orchards under different soil management practices

Borges, Olga, Raimundo, Fernando, Coutinho, João, Gonçalves, Berta, Oliveira, Ivo, Martins, Afonso, Madeira, Manuel
Agroforestry systems 2018 v.92 no.2 pp. 301-310
grasses, orchards, soil organic carbon, no-tillage, agroforestry, management systems, soil quality, soil depth, soil sampling, Castanea sativa, computed tomography, Mediterranean climate, Portugal
Several studies have emphasized the negative impact of the conventional soil management (CT) system on productivity and sustainability of chestnut orchards (Castanea sativa Mill.) when compared to no-tillage with grass cover (NT). However, scarce information is available regarding the effects of these soil management systems on soil organic matter (SOM) dynamics and soil quality. SOM or soil organic carbon is a key component of soil quality and has different fractions with different lability, namely, organic C (POC), active C (AC) and hot-water extractable carbon (HWC). These are considered as indicators of changes in management-induced soil quality. Thus, a study was carried out to evaluate the effects of NT and CT systems applied in the chestnut orchards on: (i) total amount of soil organic C (TOC), including C from both organic and mineral layers; (ii) soil organic C concentration of mineral horizons (OC); (iii) labile soil organic fractions (POC, AC, HWC); (iv) and soil mineral-associated C. The study was developed in two 30-year old chestnut orchards located in Northeast Portugal, that were kept under different soil management systems (NT or CT) during the preceding 17 years. Soil samples were taken at 0–10 and 10–20 cm soil depth. No significant differences in OC concentration were observed between NT and CT, while TOC was significantly higher in NT than in CT (22.54 and 12.17 Mg/ha or 34.16 and 22.90 Mg/ha, considering the organic layer plus mineral layers at 0–10 and 0–20 cm depth (set of two depths). The NT practice led to significantly higher concentration of labile C fractions (POC, AC and HWC) than CT at 0–10 cm soil depth. These results indicate that measurement of labile soil organic C fractions, such as POC, AC and HWC, may provide a sensitive and consistent indication of changes in soil C and SOM dynamics in response to soil management practices. Overall, NT seems to ensure better soil quality than CT in chestnut orchards under Mediterranean climate conditions.