Tillage effects on soil aggregation and soil organic carbon profile distribution under Mediterranean semi-arid conditions
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In rainfed semi-arid agroecosystems, soil organic carbon (SOC) may increase with the adoption of alternative tillage systems (e.g. no-tillage, NT). This study evaluated the effect of two tillage systems (conventional tillage, CT vs. NT) on total SOC content, SOC concentration, water stable aggregate-size
distribution and aggregate carbon concentration from 0 to 40 cm soil depth. Three tillage experiments were chosen, all located in northeast Spain and using contrasting tillage types but with different lengths of time since their establishment (20, 17, and 1-yr). In the two fields with mouldboard ploughing as CT, NT sequestered more SOC in the 0–5 cm layer compared with CT. However, despite there being no significant differences, SOC tended to accumulate under CT compared with NT in the 20–30 and 30–40 cm depths in the AG-17 field with 25–50% higher SOC content in CT compared with NT. Greater amounts of large and small macroaggregates under NT compared with CT were measured at 0–5 cm depth in AG-17 and at 5–10 cm in both AG-1 and AG-17. Differences in macroaggregate C concentration between tillage treatments were only found in the AG-17 field at the soil surface with 19.5 and 11.6 g C/kg macroaggregates in NT and CT, respectively. After 17 yr of experiment, CT with mouldboard ploughing resulted in a greater total SOC concentration and macroaggregate C concentration below 20 cm depth, but similar macroaggregate content compared with NT. This study emphasizes the need for adopting whole-soil profile approaches when studying the suitability of NT versus CT for SOC sequestration and CO2 offsetting.