Assessing causes of recent organic carbon losses from cropland soils by means of regional-scaled input balances for the case of Flanders (Belgium)
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- Sleutel, S., De Neve, S. & Hofman, G. Nutr Cycl Agroecosyst (2007) 78: 265. doi:10.1007/s10705-007-9090-x
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Several recent reports on cropland soil organic carbon (SOC) stock changes throughout Europe indicate a general continuing loss of SOC from these soils. As most arable soils in Europe are not in an equilibrium situation because of past changes in land-use and management practices, shifts in both have been suggested to drive this decline of SOC stocks. A lack of data has prevented the unambiguous verification of the contribution of these factors to SOC loss. First, this study focused on recent evolutions in management options for SOC sequestration in Flanders and showed that despite such practices have increased since 1990, their current contribution is still limited. Strikingly, their expansion is at odds with the reported general losses of SOC (−0.48 t OC ha−1 year−1 on average). We used very detailed datasets of livestock numbers, N-application rates and cropping surfaces to calculate regional shifts in input of effective OC from animal manure application, cereal straw incorporation and crop residue incorporation which amounted to −0.094, −0.045 and −0.017 t OC ha−1 year−1, respectively. Shifts in management were identified to have potentially brought about but a third of the recent loss of SOC in the study area, although for central West-Flanders and the Eastern border of Flanders larger impacts of management were observed. This study suggests other influences such as land-use change and climate change to be involved as well. We estimated that another 10%–45% of the loss of SOC could potentially be attributed to land-use changes from grassland to cropland during the 1970–1990 period and about 10% to the observed temperature increase. While being a regional-scaled case study, these findings may be relevant to other European regions in particular (Denmark, The Netherlands, North-West Germany, Brittany and the North-West of France, the Po-valley in Italy and parts of England), with similar climate and intensity of agriculture, and where comparable trends in farming management may well have taken place.