Plant and Soil

, Volume 376, Issue 1–2, pp 31–41 | Cite as

Soil organic carbon storage in a no-tillage chronosequence under Mediterranean conditions

  • J. Álvaro-FuentesEmail author
  • D. Plaza-Bonilla
  • J. L. Arrúe
  • J. Lampurlanés
  • C. Cantero-Martínez
Regular Article


Background and aims

The duration of soil organic carbon (SOC) sequestration in agricultural soils varies according to soil management, land-use history and soil and climate conditions. Despite several experiments have reported SOC sequestration with the adoption of no-tillage (NT) in Mediterranean dryland agroecosystems scarce information exists about the duration and magnitude of the sequestration process. For this reason, 20 years ago we established in northeast Spain a NT chronosequence experiment to evaluate SOC sequestration duration under Mediterranean dryland conditions.


In July 2010 we sampled five chronosequence phases with different years under NT (i.e., 1, 4, 11, and 20 years) and a continuous conventional tillage (CT) field, in which management prevailed unchanged during decades. Soil samples were taken at four depths: 0–5, 5–10, 10–20 and 20–30 cm. The SOC stocks were calculated from the SOC concentration and soil bulk density. Furthermore, we applied the Century ecosystem model to the different stages of the chronosequence to better understand the factors controlling SOC sequestration with NT adoption.


Differences in SOC stocks were only found in the upper 5 cm soil layer in which 4, 11 and 20 years under NT showed greater SOC stocks compared with 1 year under NT and the CT phase. Despite no significant differences were found in the total SOC stock (0–30 cm soil layer) there was a noteworthy difference of 5.7 Mg ha−1 between the phase with the longest NT duration and the phase under conventional tillage. The maximum annual SOC sequestration occurred after 5 years of NT adoption with almost 50% change in the annual rate of SOC sequestration. NT sequestered SOC over the 20 years following the change in management. However, more than 75% of the total SOC sequestered was gained during the first 11 years after NT adoption. The Century model predicted reasonably well SOC stocks over the NT chronosequence.


In Mediterranean agroecosystems, despite the continuous use of NT has limited capacity for SOC sequestration, other environmental and agronomic benefits associated to this technique may justify the maintenance of NT over the long-term.


No-tillage Mediterranean agroecosystems Soil organic carbon sequestration duration Soil carbon modelling Century model 



This work was supported by the Comisión Interministerial de Ciencia y Tecnología of Spain (Grants AGL2007-66320-CO2-02/AGR and AGL2010-22050-C03-01/02) and the European Union (FEDER funds). We acknowledge the Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Cientificas (CSIC) for the contract granted to Jorge Álvaro-Fuentes within the “Junta para la Ampliación de Estudios” (JAE-DOC) programme co-financed by the European Social Fund. Furthermore, Daniel Plaza-Bonilla was awarded with a FPU fellowship by the Spanish Ministry of Education. We thank Carlos Cortés and Silvia Martí for their technical assistance. We would like to thank the two anonymous reviewers for their helpful comments on earlier versions of this manuscript.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • J. Álvaro-Fuentes
    • 1
    Email author
  • D. Plaza-Bonilla
    • 2
  • J. L. Arrúe
    • 1
  • J. Lampurlanés
    • 3
  • C. Cantero-Martínez
    • 2
  1. 1.Departamento de Suelo y Agua, Estación Experimental de Aula DeiConsejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas (EEAD-CSIC)ZaragozaSpain
  2. 2.Departamento de Producción Vegetal y Ciencia Forestal (Unidad Asociada EEAD-CSIC)Universidad de LleidaLleidaSpain
  3. 3.Departamento de Ingeniería Agroforestal (Unidad Asociada EEAD-CSIC)Universidad de LleidaLleidaSpain

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