The impact of agricultural management on soil aggregation and carbon storage is regulated by climatic thresholds across a 3000 km European gradient

Anna Edlinger*, Gina Garland, Samiran Banerjee, Florine Degrune, Pablo García-Palacios, Chantal Herzog, David Sánchez Pescador, Sana Romdhane, Masahiro Ryo, Aurélien Saghaï, Sara Hallin, Fernando T. Maestre, Laurent Philippot, Matthias C. Rillig, Marcel G.A. van der Heijden*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Scopus citations


Organic carbon and aggregate stability are key features of soil quality and are important to consider when evaluating the potential of agricultural soils as carbon sinks. However, we lack a comprehensive understanding of how soil organic carbon (SOC) and aggregate stability respond to agricultural management across wide environmental gradients. Here, we assessed the impact of climatic factors, soil properties and agricultural management (including land use, crop cover, crop diversity, organic fertilization, and management intensity) on SOC and the mean weight diameter of soil aggregates, commonly used as an indicator for soil aggregate stability, across a 3000 km European gradient. Soil aggregate stability (−56%) and SOC stocks (−35%) in the topsoil (20 cm) were lower in croplands compared with neighboring grassland sites (uncropped sites with perennial vegetation and little or no external inputs). Land use and aridity were strong drivers of soil aggregation explaining 33% and 20% of the variation, respectively. SOC stocks were best explained by calcium content (20% of explained variation) followed by aridity (15%) and mean annual temperature (10%). We also found a threshold-like pattern for SOC stocks and aggregate stability in response to aridity, with lower values at sites with higher aridity. The impact of crop management on aggregate stability and SOC stocks appeared to be regulated by these thresholds, with more pronounced positive effects of crop diversity and more severe negative effects of crop management intensity in nondryland compared with dryland regions. We link the higher sensitivity of SOC stocks and aggregate stability in nondryland regions to a higher climatic potential for aggregate-mediated SOC stabilization. The presented findings are relevant for improving predictions of management effects on soil structure and C storage and highlight the need for site-specific agri-environmental policies to improve soil quality and C sequestration.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3177-3192
Number of pages16
JournalGlobal change biology
Issue number11
StatePublished - Jun 2023

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2023 The Authors. Global Change Biology published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd.


  • aggregate stability
  • agro-ecosystems
  • aridity
  • climatic threshold
  • environmental gradient
  • intensive agriculture
  • soil organic carbon

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Global and Planetary Change
  • Environmental Chemistry
  • Ecology
  • General Environmental Science


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