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Evolution of soil organic carbon in a carbonaceous glacial till as an effect of crop and fertility management over 50 years in a field experiment

Kauer, Karin, Astover, Alar, Viiralt, Rein, Raave, Henn, Kätterer, Thomas
Agriculture, ecosystems & environment 2019 v.283 pp. 106562
Galega, alfalfa, barley, carbon sequestration, fallow, field experimentation, forage crops, glacial till, glacial till soils, hybrids, nitrogen, perennials, sand, sand fraction, soil organic carbon, soil texture, turf grasses, water solubility
Changes in soil organic carbon (SOC) content depending on different factors are extensively investigated when the soil is in steady-state equilibrium between formation and decomposition of soil organic matter. However, studies of SOC formation and dynamics in initally organic matter free soil are rare. Evolution of soil organic carbon was studied in a field experiment established in 1964 on a carbonaceous glacial till soil with very low initial SOC content (1.28 g kg−1). The effects on SOC content changes of bare fallow, barley and different perennial fodder crops such as grasses, clover-grass mixture, galega, hybrid lucerne and a turfgrass mixture, with or without mineral N and PK fertilisation and manure, were studied. There were 19 treatments in total and most had unchanged plant cover composition throughout the experiment. During 1964–2014, SOC stock increased in all treatments, by 0.11 Mg ha−1 y−1 in bare fallow and by at most 0.50 Mg ha−1 y−1 in the treatment with hybrid lucerne and manure. Average SOC sequestration rate was 0.35 ± 0.11 Mg ha−1 y−1. SOC changes were highly correlated with estimated C inputs and were therefore higher in treatments with perennials than with an annual barley crop. C retention efficiency for total crop-derived C inputs and for organic amendments was 6.1% and 22%, respectively. Water-soluble C measured in 2014 increased linearly with SOC, indicating that the quality of recently formed SOC was not strongly affected by the treatments. However, water-soluble C as a fraction of SOC was significantly lower in treatments with legumes than in treatments with bare fallow or a barley or grass crop. These results demonstrate that the quantity and quality of C inputs were both main drivers for observed changes in SOC. However, C retention efficiency of C inputs was relatively low. This may be related to soil texture with high sand proportion, suggesting that SOC sequestration rates in light-textured soils may be lower than expected even in case of low initial SOC content.