Interactive effects of tillage and mineral fertilization on soil carbon profiles

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Both tillage and fertilizer management influence soil organic C (SOC) storage, but their interactive effects remain to be determined for various soil and climatic conditions. We evaluated the long-term effects of tillage (no-till, NT, and moldboard plowing, MP), and N and P fertilization on SOC stocks and concentrations in profiles of a clay loam soil (clayey, mixed, mesic Typic Humaquept). Corn (Zea mays L.) and soybean [Glycine max (L.) Merr.] were grown in a yearly rotation for 14 yr. Our results showed that NT enhanced the SOC content in the soil surface layer, but MP resulted in greater SOC content near the bottom of the plow layer.

When the entire soil profile (0–60 cm) was considered, both effects compensated each other, which resulted in statistically equivalent SOC stocks for both tillage practices. Nitrogen and P fertilization with MP increased the estimated crop C inputs to the soil but did not significantly influence SOC stocks in the whole soil profile. At the 0- to 20-cm depth, however, lower C stocks were measured in the plowed soil with the highest N fertilizer level than in any other treatment, which was probably caused by a greater decomposition of crop residues and soil organic matter. Conversely, the highest SOC stocks of the 0- to 20-cm soil layer were observed in the NT treatment with the highest N rates, reflecting a greater residue accumulation at the soil surface. When accounting for the whole soil profile, the variations in surface SOC due to tillage and fertilizer interactions were masked by tillage-induced differences in the 20- to 30-cm soil layer.

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