Preprints
https://doi.org/10.5194/egusphere-2023-1885
https://doi.org/10.5194/egusphere-2023-1885
04 Sep 2023
 | 04 Sep 2023

Cover crops improve soil structure and change organic carbon distribution in macroaggregate fractions

Norman Gentsch, Florin Laura Riechers, Jens Boy, Dörte Schwenecker, Ulf Feuerstein, Diana Heuermann, and Georg Guggenberger

Abstract. Soil structure is sensitive to intensive soil management. It can be ameliorated by a reduction in soil cultivation and stimulation of plant and microbial mediators for aggregate formation, latter a prerequisite and measure for soil quality. Cover crops (CC) are part of an integrated approach to stabilize or improve soil quality. Thereby, the incorporation of diverse CC mixtures is hypothesized to increase the positive effects of CC applications. This study entailed an investigation of the legacy effect of CC on soil aggregates after three crop rotations in the second main crop (winter wheat) after the last CC treatment. Four CCs (mustard, phacelia, clover, and oat) cultivated in pure stands and a fallow treatment were compared to a mixture of the four CC species (Mix4) and a highly diverse 12 plant species mixture (Mix12) in a long-term field experiment in Germany. The organic carbon (OC) distribution within macroaggregate fractions (16–8, 8–4, 4–2, 2–1 and < 1 mm) and their aggregate stability were measured by dry and wet sieving methods, and the mean weight diameter (MWD) was calculated from water-stable aggregates.

The results showed that compared to the fallow, all CCs increased the MWD between 10 and 19 % in soil under the following main crop. The average MWD increase over the fallow was slightly higher for CC mixtures (16 %) than for single CCs (12 %). Higher MWD improvement at the 20–30 cm depth also indicates additional benefits from a reduction in the cultivation depth. Structural equation modelling (SEM) suggests that single CCs were more likely to increase OC storage in small macroaggregates < 1 mm, while CC mixtures were more likely to increase OC in the largest fraction (8–16 mm). Different individual CC species or mixtures exhibited a varying involvement in the formation of different aggregate fractions. We provide evidence that litter quality, root morphology and rhizosphere input, which affect microbial mediators of aggregate formation, might be the main reasons for the observed differences between CC treatments. Cover crops are valuable multifunctional tools for sustainable soil management. Here, we showed that they contribute to structure amelioration in arable soils. Increasing the functional diversity of plant species in CC mixtures could be a strategy to further enhance the positive effects of CC in agroecosystems.

Journal article(s) based on this preprint

15 Feb 2024
Cover crops improve soil structure and change organic carbon distribution in macroaggregate fractions
Norman Gentsch, Florin Laura Riechers, Jens Boy, Dörte Schweneker, Ulf Feuerstein, Diana Heuermann, and Georg Guggenberger
SOIL, 10, 139–150, https://doi.org/10.5194/soil-10-139-2024,https://doi.org/10.5194/soil-10-139-2024, 2024
Short summary
Norman Gentsch, Florin Laura Riechers, Jens Boy, Dörte Schwenecker, Ulf Feuerstein, Diana Heuermann, and Georg Guggenberger

Interactive discussion

Status: closed

Comment types: AC – author | RC – referee | CC – community | EC – editor | CEC – chief editor | : Report abuse
  • RC1: 'Comment on egusphere-2023-1885', Anonymous Referee #1, 12 Oct 2023
    • RC2: 'Reply on RC1', Anonymous Referee #2, 17 Oct 2023
    • AC1: 'Reply on RC1', Norman Gentsch, 02 Nov 2023

Interactive discussion

Status: closed

Comment types: AC – author | RC – referee | CC – community | EC – editor | CEC – chief editor | : Report abuse
  • RC1: 'Comment on egusphere-2023-1885', Anonymous Referee #1, 12 Oct 2023
    • RC2: 'Reply on RC1', Anonymous Referee #2, 17 Oct 2023
    • AC1: 'Reply on RC1', Norman Gentsch, 02 Nov 2023

Peer review completion

AR: Author's response | RR: Referee report | ED: Editor decision | EF: Editorial file upload
ED: Publish subject to minor revisions (review by editor) (12 Nov 2023) by Ping He
AR by Norman Gentsch on behalf of the Authors (20 Nov 2023)  Author's response   Author's tracked changes   Manuscript 
ED: Publish subject to minor revisions (review by editor) (24 Nov 2023) by Ping He
AR by Norman Gentsch on behalf of the Authors (28 Nov 2023)  Author's response   Author's tracked changes   Manuscript 
ED: Publish as is (30 Nov 2023) by Ping He
ED: Publish as is (12 Dec 2023) by Engracia Madejón Rodríguez (Executive editor)
AR by Norman Gentsch on behalf of the Authors (26 Dec 2023)

Journal article(s) based on this preprint

15 Feb 2024
Cover crops improve soil structure and change organic carbon distribution in macroaggregate fractions
Norman Gentsch, Florin Laura Riechers, Jens Boy, Dörte Schweneker, Ulf Feuerstein, Diana Heuermann, and Georg Guggenberger
SOIL, 10, 139–150, https://doi.org/10.5194/soil-10-139-2024,https://doi.org/10.5194/soil-10-139-2024, 2024
Short summary
Norman Gentsch, Florin Laura Riechers, Jens Boy, Dörte Schwenecker, Ulf Feuerstein, Diana Heuermann, and Georg Guggenberger
Norman Gentsch, Florin Laura Riechers, Jens Boy, Dörte Schwenecker, Ulf Feuerstein, Diana Heuermann, and Georg Guggenberger

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Short summary
Cover crops have substantial impacts on soil properties, but so far it is not clear how long a legacy effect of cover cropping will remain in the soil. We found, that cover crops attenuate negative effects on soil structure that come from soil cultivation. The combination of plants with different litter qualities and rhizodeposits in biodiverse cover crop mixtures can improve the positive effects of cover cropping on soil structure amelioration.