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Cover crops reduce water drainage in temperate climates: A meta-analysis

Meyer, Nicolas, Bergez, Jacques-Eric, Constantin, Julie, Justes, Eric
Agronomy for sustainable development 2019 v.39 no.1 pp. 3
cover crops, cropping systems, drainage, ecosystem services, evapotranspiration, green manures, groundwater recharge, meta-analysis, nitrates, pollution control, soil water, soil water balance, temperate zones, transpiration, water pollution
Cover crops provide many ecosystem services, such as soil protection, nitrate pollution of water mitigation, and green manure effects. However, the impact of cover crops on soil water balance is poorly studied, despite its potential impact on groundwater recharge. Some studies reported a reduction of the water drainage due to an increase of the evapotranspiration by plant cover transpiration. However, there is no real consensus on the intensity of this phenomenon, which highlights the importance to quantify the impact of cover crops on drainage compared to that of bare soil. We performed a meta-analysis of published papers presenting studies on the impact of cover crops on drainage compared to that of bare soil under temperate climates. Of the 436 papers identified, 28 of them were included in the analysis based on criteria required for performing a relevant meta-analysis. The originality of our study lies in two following results: (1) the quantification of drainage reduction with cover crops by a mean effect size of 27 mm compared to that of bare soil and (2) within the large variability of soils, climates, and cropping systems, no main determining factor was found significant to explain the variability of water drainage reduction. The cover crops provide a service of nitrate pollution mitigation, but the drainage reduction could be considered as a disservice, because they can lead to a reduction in groundwater recharge due to a higher evapotranspiration in comparison to bare soil. This highlights the need of research for optimizing trade-offs between services and disservices of cover crops for water balance.