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Effects of cropping systems upon the three-dimensional architecture of soil systems are modulated by texture

Bacq-Labreuil, Aurelie, Crawford, John, Mooney, Sacha J., Neal, Andrew L., Akkari, Elsy, McAuliffe, Cormac, Zhang, Xiaoxian, Redmile-Gordon, Marc, Ritz, Karl
Geoderma 2018 v.332 pp. 73-83
clay soils, computed tomography, ecological function, fallow, field experimentation, grasslands, management systems, perennial cropping, perennials, porosity, sandy soils, soil structure, soil texture, texture
Soil delivers fundamental ecosystem functions via interactions between physical and biological processes mediated by soil structure. The structure of soil is also dynamic and modified by natural factors and management intervention. The aim of this study was to investigate the effects of different cropping systems on soil structure at contrasting spatial scales. Three systems were studied in replicated plot field experiments involving varying degrees of plant-derived inputs to the soil, viz. perennial (grassland), annual (arable), and no-plant control (bare fallow), associated with two contrasting soil textures (clayey and sandy). We hypothesized the presence of plants results in a greater range (diversity) of pore sizes and that perennial cropping systems invoke greater structural heterogeneity. Accordingly, the nature of the pore systems was visualised and quantified in 3D by X-ray Computed Tomography at the mm and μm scale. Plants did not affect the porosity of clay soil at the mm scale, but at the μm scale, annual and perennial plant cover resulted in significantly increased porosity, a wider range of pore sizes and greater connectivity compared to bare fallow soil. However, the opposite occurred in the sandy soil, where plants decreased the porosity and pore connectivity at the mm scale but had no significant structural effect at the μm scale. These data reveal profound effects of different agricultural management systems upon soil structural modification, which are strongly modulated by the extent of plant presence and also contingent on the inherent texture of the soil.