, Volume 108, Issue 1–3, pp 17–26 | Cite as

Carbon input differences as the main factor explaining the variability in soil organic C storage in no-tilled compared to inversion tilled agrosystems

  • Iñigo VirtoEmail author
  • Pierre Barré
  • Aurélien Burlot
  • Claire Chenu
Synthesis and Emerging Ideas


Conversion to no-till (NT) is usually associated to increased soil organic carbon (SOC) stocks in comparison to inversion tillage (IT). However, an important and unexplained variability in the changes in SOC with NT adoption exists, which impedes accurate prediction of its potential for C sequestration. We performed a meta-analysis with pedo-climatic and crop factors observed to influence SOC storage under NT at local and regional scales, in order to determine those better explaining this variability at a global scale. We studied SOC stocks (0–30 cm) in an equivalent soil mass, climatic and soil characteristics in 92 NT–IT paired cases. A sub-base with the 35 pairs providing C inputs was used to test their effect. Greater SOC stocks were observed with NT, with a smaller difference than often described (6.7%, i.e. 3.4 Mg C ha−1). Crop C inputs differences was the only factor significantly and positively related to SOC stock differences between NT and IT, explaining 30% of their variability. The variability in SOC storage induced by NT conversion seems largely related to the variability of the crop production response. Changes at the agro-ecosystem level, not only in soil, should be considered when assessing the potential of NT for C sequestration.


No-tillage C sequestration Crop primary production Soil C C sinks 



The authors thank May Balabane (Unité Pessac, INRA Versailles, France) for her fruitful collaboration in this paper, and Naoise Nunan (Unité Mixte de Recherche BIOEMCO, CNRS-AgroParisTech, Thiverval-Grignon, France) for his help and contribution to the statistical treatment of data presented in this work. Iñigo Virto’s salary was paid by the Basque Government (Eusko Jaurlaritza, Spain). Pierre Barré’s salary was paid by the GIS “Climat-Environnement-Société” (Carbosoil project, France). W.A. Dick and J. Castellanos are thanked for providing data to complete the information found in their studies.

Supplementary material

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Supplementary material 1 (DOC 205 kb)
10533_2011_9600_MOESM2_ESM.doc (231 kb)
Supplementary material 2 (DOC 231 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  • Iñigo Virto
    • 1
    • 2
    Email author
  • Pierre Barré
    • 3
    • 4
  • Aurélien Burlot
    • 5
  • Claire Chenu
    • 1
  1. 1.AgroParisTech, UMR BioEMCo, Bâtiment EGERThiverval-GrignonFrance
  2. 2.Departamento Ciencias del Medio NaturalUniversidad Pública de NavarraPamplonaSpain
  3. 3.CNRS, UMR BioEMCo, Bâtiment EGERThiverval-GrignonFrance
  4. 4.Laboratoire de Géologie, École Normale SupérieureCNRS, UMR 8538ParisFrance
  5. 5.Université Pierre et Marie Curie, UMR BioEMCoThiverval-GrignonFrance

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