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The sensitivity of soil organic carbon pools to land management varies depending on former tillage practices

Miller, G.A., Rees, R.M., Griffiths, B.S., Ball, B.C., Cloy, J.M.
Soil & tillage research 2019 v.189 pp. 236-242
carbon sinks, fractionation, grassland management, no-tillage, plows, reduced tillage, rotary tillage, soil, soil organic carbon
The rate of change in the relative size of SOC pools (sensitivity) due to land management may vary depending on their level of chemical and/or physical protection from decomposition, but has rarely been directly measured. The availability of archived (1975) soils from an abandoned long term tillage treatment experiment provided a unique opportunity to assess the sensitivity of SOC pools with different levels of stability to uniform land management after divergent tillage treatments. There were four initial treatments (1968–1991): 1) deep plough then no till, 2) shallow plough, 3) reduced till then rotary cultivation and 4) no till. The treatments were followed by uniform long-term grassland management (17 years) and subsequent short-term arable (two years). The sensitivity of SOC to land management was assessed by fractionation and direct comparison of archived soils and soils sampled in 2014 from this site. Both reductions and increases in SOC stocks were observed over time in comparable treatments but the overall effect was a trend towards an equilibration of SOC stocks across all plots. The labile fractions (particulate and dissolved organic matter) were sensitive to land management regardless of initial tillage treatment, but were more sensitive in the reduced till + rotary cultivation and no till treatments (2.3–5.3 times more sensitive than the whole soil) than the deep plough + no till and shallow plough treatments (1.12.2 times more sensitive than the whole soil). The chemically resistant fraction of the soils was surprisingly sensitive to land management (0.9–1.3 times more sensitive than the whole soil). This study shows that the degree of sensitivity of SOC fractions to land management can vary significantly depending on previous tillage management practices.