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Research article - Peer-reviewed, 2019

On-farm study reveals positive relationship between gas transport capacity and organic carbon content in arable soil

Colombi, Tino; Walder, Florian; Buechi, Lucie; Sommer, Marlies; Liu, Kexing; Six, Johan; van der Heijden, Marcel G. A.; Charles, Raphael; Keller, Thomas


Arable soils may act as a sink in the global carbon cycle, but the prediction of their potential for carbon sequestration remains challenging. Amongst other factors, soil aeration is known to influence root growth and microbial activity and thus inputs and decomposition of soil organic carbon. However, the influence of soil aeration on soil organic carbon content has been explored only little, especially at the farm level. Here, we investigated relationships between gas transport properties and organic carbon content in the topsoil and subsoil of 30 fields of individual farms, covering a wide range of textural composition. The fields were managed either conventionally, organically, or according to no-till practice. Despite considerable overlap between the management systems, we found that tillage increased soil gas transport capability in the topsoil, while organic farming resulted in higher soil organic carbon content. Remarkably, higher gas transport capability was associated with higher soil organic carbon content, both in the topsoil and subsoil (0.53 < R-2 < 0.71). Exogenous organic carbon inputs in the form of crop residues and organic amendments, in contrast, were not related to soil organic carbon content. Based on this, we conjecture that higher gas transport capability resulted in improved conditions for root growth, which eventually led to increased input of soil organic carbon. Our findings show the importance of soil aeration for carbon storage in soil and highlight the need to consider aeration in the evaluation of carbon sequestration strategies in cropping systems.


arable soils; carbon cycle; soil aeration; gas transport capability; carbon storage

Published in

2019, Volume: 5, number: 1, pages: 91-105