We analysed the long-term effect of the addition of organic carbon (C) on the macropore structure of topsoils. For this purpose we compared the top 50 mm in the tree rows of an organic apple orchard with those in an adjacent conventional orchard with the same soil type, texture and previous land-use history in New Zealand. After 12 years the topsoils of the organic orchard had 32% more soil organic carbon (SOC) sequestered than those of the conventional, integrated orchard because of regular compost applications and grass coverage. We quantified the macropore structure (macropores = pores > 0.3 mm) of nine undisturbed soil columns (43 mm long, 20 × 17 mm in the plane) within each orchard using 3D X-ray computed tomography. The macroporosity (7.5 ± 2.1%) of the organic orchard soil was significantly greater than that of the integrated orchard (2.4 ± 0.5%). The mean macropore radius was similar in the organic and integrated systems, with 0.41 ± 0.02 mm and 0.39 ± 0.01 mm, respectively. The connectivity of macropores tended to be greater in the organic than in the integrated system, but this was not statistically significant. The pronounced soil C management in the organic orchard increased both the formation of macropores by roots and a larger fresh weight of anecic earthworms, and the stabilization of the macropore structure was increased by a larger aggregate stability and microbial biomass compared with those of the integrated orchard. We simulated the diffusion through the measured pore structures of segments of the soil columns. The segments had the length of the mean aggregate size of the soils. The relative diffusion coefficients at this aggregate scale were significantly greater in the organic (0.024 ± 0.0009) than in the integrated (0.0056 ± 0.008) orchard. In a regression analysis with both the porosity and connectivity of macropores as significant variables, 76% of the variability of the relative diffusion coefficients was explained in the integrated, and, with the porosity as the only significant factor, 71% of the variability in the organic orchard. We hypothesize that a greater relative diffusion coefficient at the aggregate scale would reduce nitrous oxide (N2O) production and emission in a wet soil and suggest that soil C management combats climate change directly by sequestering C and indirectly in the form of a reduction of N2O emissions, by creating more macropores. © 2009 British Society of Soil Science.
Bibliographical noteGenerated from Scopus record by KAUST IRTS on 2023-02-15
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Soil Science