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Twenty percent of agricultural management effects on organic carbon stocks occur in subsoils - Results of ten long-term experiments

Agricultural management can influence soil organic carbon (SOC) stocks and thus may contribute to carbon sequestration and climate change mitigation. The soil depth to which agricultural management practices affect SOC is uncertain. Soil depth may have an important bearing on soil carbon dynamics, so it is important to consider depth effects to capture fully changes in SOC stocks. This applies in particular to the evaluation of carbon farming measures, which are becoming increasingly important due to climate change. We sampled and analysed the upper metre of mineral cropland soils from ten long-term experiments (LTEs) in Germany to quantify depth-specific effects on SOC stocks of common agricultural management practices: mineral nitrogen (N) fertilisation, a combination of N, phosphorus (P) and potassium (K) fertilisation, irrigation, a crop rotation with preceding crops (pre-crops), straw incorporation, application of farmyard manure (FYM), liming, and reduced tillage. In addition, the effects of soil compaction on SOC stocks were examined as a negative side effect of agricultural management. Results showed that 19 ± 3 % of total management effects on SOC stocks were found in the upper subsoil (30–50 cm) and 3 ± 4 % in the lower subsoil (50–100 cm), including all agricultural management practices with significant topsoil SOC effects, while 79 ± 7 % of management effects were in the topsoil (0–30 cm). Nitrogen and NPK fertilisation were the treatments that had the greatest effect on subsoil organic carbon (OC) stocks, followed by irrigation, FYM application and straw incorporation. Sampling down to a depth of 50 cm resulted in significantly higher SOC effects than when considering topsoil only. A crop rotation with pre-crops, liming, reduced tillage and soil compaction did not significantly affect SOC stocks at any depth increment. Since approximately 20 % of the impact of agricultural management on SOC stocks occurs in the subsoil, we recommend soil monitoring programs and carbon farming schemes extend their standard soil sampling down to 50 cm depth to capture fully agricultural management effects on SOC.



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