Please wait a minute...
Journal of Arid Land  2012, Vol. 4 Issue (3): 251-259    DOI: 10.3724/SP.J.1227.2012.00251
Research Articles     
The effect of total carbon on microscopic soil properties and implications for crop production
Inma LEBRON1, Milton Earl MCGIFFEN Jr2, Donald Louis SUAREZ3
1 Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, Bangor, Gwynedd, LL57 2UW, UK;
2 Department of Botany and Plant Science, University of California, Riverside, CA 92521–0334, USA;
3 U.S. Salinity Laboratory, Riverside, CA 92521–0334, USA
Download:   PDF(2262KB)
Export: BibTeX | EndNote (RIS)      

Abstract  Soil structure is a dynamic property affected by physical, chemical, and microbiological processes. Addition of organic matter to soils and the use of different management practices have been reported to impact soil structure and crop production. Moderation in soil temperature and increases in microbial activity and soil water retention are often suggested as reasons for the rise in crop yield when organic matter is added to the soil. Less is known about the direct effect of changes in soil structure on crop production. A field experiment was conducted to study the effect of summer cover crop and in-season management system on soil structure. The experiment was a nested design with summer cover crop as the main plot and management system as the subplot. Summer cover crop treatments included cowpea (Vigna unguiculata L. Walp.) incorporated into the soil in the fall (CI), cowpea used as mulch in the fall (CM), sudangrass (Sorghum vulgare) incorporated into the soil in the fall (S), and dry fallow or bare ground (B). Management systems were organic (ORG) and conventional (CNV) systems. Lettuce (Lactuca sativa L.) and cantaloupes (Cucumis melo L.) were cultivated in rotation in the plots for three consecutive years using the same cover crops and management systems for each plot. Disturbed and undisturbed soil cores were collected at the end of the third year and used for laboratory experiments to measure physical, chemical, and hydraulic properties. Image analysis was used to quantify soil structure properties using a scanning electron microscope on thin sections prepared from the undisturbed soil cores. We found that total soil carbon was corre-lated with porosity, saturation percentage, and pore roughness. Pore roughness was correlated with crop production in general and with marketable production in particular. We found that the higher the complexity of the pore space, the more water retained in the soil, which may increase soil water residence and reduce plant water stress.

Received: 27 January 2012      Published: 03 September 2012
Corresponding Authors: Milton Earl MCGIFFEN Jr     E-mail:
Cite this article:

Inma LEBRON, Milton Earl MCGIFFEN Jr, Donald Louis SUAREZ. The effect of total carbon on microscopic soil properties and implications for crop production. Journal of Arid Land, 2012, 4(3): 251-259.

URL:     OR

Ajwa H A, Tabatabai M A. 1994. Decomposition of different organic materials in soils. Biology and Fertility of Soils, 18: 175–182.

Astier M, Gersper P L, Buchanan M. 1994. Combining legumes and compost: a viable alternative for farmers in conversion to organic agriculture. Compost Science & Utilization, 2: 80–87.

Bartoli F, Philippy R, Burtin G. 1988. Aggregation in soils with small amounts of swelling clays. l. Aggregate stability. Journal of Soil Science, 39: 593–616.

Batte M T, Forster D L, Hitzhusen F J. 1993. Organic agriculture in Ohio: an economic perspective. Journal of production agriculture, 6: 536–542.

Bronick C J, Lal R. 2005. Soil structure and management: a review. Geoderma, 124: 3–22.

Chaney K, Swift R S. 1984. The influence of organic matter on aggregate stability in some British soils. Journal of Soil Science, 35: 223–230.

Cambardella C A, Elliot E T. 1993. Carbon and nitrogen distribution in aggregates from cultivated and native grassland soils. Soil Biology and Biochemistry, 57: 1071–1076.

Chenu C. 1993. Clay- or sand-polysaccharide associations as models for the interface between micro-organisms and soil: water related properties and microstructure. Geoderma, 56: 143–156.

Cuevas G, Blazquez R, Martinez F, et al. 2000. Composted MSW effects on soil properties and native vegetation in a degraded semi-arid shrubland. Compost Science & Utilization, 8: 303–309.

Dorioz J M, Robert M, Chenu C. 1993. The role of roots, fungi and bacteria on clay particle organization. An experimental approach. Geoderma, 56: 179–194.

Drinkwater L E, Letourneau D K, Workneh F, et al. 1995. Fundamental differences between conventional and organic tomato agroecosystems in California. Ecological Applications, 5: 1098–1112.

Elliot E T. 1986. Aggregate structure and carbon nitrogen and phosphorous in native and cultivated soils. Soil Science Society of America Journal, 50: 627–633.

Gaillard V, Chenu C, Recous S, et al. 1999. Carbon, nitrogen and microbial gradients induced by plant residues decomposing in soils. European Journal of Soil Science, 50: 567–578.

Gee G W, Bauder J W. 1986. Particle size analysis. In: Klute A. Methods of Soil Analysis. Part 1. Physical and Mineralogical Methods. 2nd ed. Madison, WI: ASA and SSSA, 383–412.

Goldberg S, Forster H S. 1990. Flocculation of reference clays and arid-zone soil clays. Soil Science Society of America Journal, 54: 714–718.

Gregorich E G, Janzen H H. 2000. Microbially mediated processes. Decomposition. In: Malcolm E S. Handbook of Soil Science. Boca Raton, Fl: CRC Press.

Gupta V V S R, Germida J J. 1988. Distribution of microbial biomass and its activity in different soil aggregate size classes as affected by cultivation. Soil Biology and Biochemistry, 20: 777–786.

Hesterberg D, Page A L. 1993. Critical coagulation concentration of sodium and potassium illite as affected by pH. Soil Science Society of America Journal, 54: 735–739.

Hutchinson C M, McGiffen M E Jr. 2000. Cowpea cover crop mulch for weed control in desert pepper production. HortScience, 35: 196–198.

Juma N G. 1993. Interrelationships between soil structure/texture, soil biota/soil organic matter and crop production. Geoderma, 57: 3–30.

Kemper W D, Koch E J. 1966. Aggregate stability of soils from the western portions of the United States and Canada. USDA Tech. Bull. 1355. Washington DC: United States Government Printing Office.

Kretzschmar R, Robarge W P, Weed S B. 1993. Flocculation of kaolinitic soil clays: effects of humic substances and iron oxides. Soil Science Society of America Journal, 57: 1277–1283.

Laird D. 2001. Nature of clay-humic complexes in an agricultural soil: ll. Scanning electron microscopy analysis. Soil Science Society of America Journal, 65: 1419–1425.

Lebron I, Suarez D L. 1992. Variations in soil stability within and among soil types. Soil Science Society of America Journal, 56: 1412–1421.

Lebron I, Schaap M G, Suarez D L. 1999. Saturated hydraulic conductivity prediction from microscopic pore geometry measurements and neural network analysis. Water Resources Research, 35: 3149–3158.

Macrae R J, Mehuys G R. 1987. Effects of green maturing in rotation with corn on the physical properties of two Quebec [Canada] soils. Biological Agriculture & Horticulture, 4: 257–270.

Magdoff F, Van Es H. 2000. Building Soils for Better Crops. 2nd ed. Sustainable Agriculture Network, Handbook Series Book 4. Maryland: Beltsville, 230.

McGiffen M E Jr. 2011. Organic Vegetable Production Manual. California: University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources Communication Services, 99.

Merckx R, Den Hartog A, van Ven J A. 1985. Turnover of root-derived material and related microbial biomass formation in soils of different texture. Soil Biology and Biochemistry, 17: 565–569.

Oades J M. 1984. Soil organic matter and structural stability: mechanisms and implications for management. Plant and Soil, 76: 319–337.

Oades J M. 1987. Associations of colloidal materials in soils. In: XIII. Proceedings of the Congress of the International Society of Soil Science. Hamburg: 660–674.

Oades J M. 1989. An introduction to organic matter in mineral soils. In: Dixon J B, Weed S B. Minerals in Soil Environments. 2nd ed. Madison, WI: SSSA, 89–159.

Oades J M. 1993. The role of biology in the formation, stabilization and degradation of soil structure. Geoderma, 56: 377–400.

Parr J F, Willson G B. 1980. Recycling organic wastes to increase soil productivity. HortScience, 15: 162–166.

Rhoades J D. 1982. Soluble salts. In: Page A L, Miller R H. Methods of Soil Analysis. Part 2. Chemical and Microbiological Properties. Madison, WI: ASA and SSSA, 167–178.

Roe N E. 1998. Municipal waste compost production and utilization for horticultural crops: introduction to the colloquium. HortScience, 33: 931.

Rutherford P M, Juma N G. 1992. Influence of soil texture on protozoa-induced mineralization of bacterial carbon and nitrogen. Canadian Journal of Soil Science, 72: 183–200.

SAS Institute Inc. 1988. SAS/STAT User's Guide, Release 6.03 ed. Cary, North Carolina: SAS Institute Inc.

Stevenson F J. 1994. Humus Chemistry. 2nd ed. John New York: Wiley and Sons.

Tisdall J M, Oades J M. 1982. Organic matter and water stable aggregates in soils. Journal of Soil Science, 33: 141–163.

U.S. Salinity Laboratory Staff. 1954. Diagnosis and improvement of saline and alkali soils. In: USDA Agriculture Handbook. Washington DC: United States Government Printing Office, 60.

van Veen J A, Laad J N, Frissel M J. 1984. Modelling C and N turnover through the microbial biomass in soil. Plant and Soil, 76: 257–274.

van Veen J A, Liljeroth E, Lekkerkerk J A. 1991. Carbon fluxes in plant-soil system at elevated atmospheric CO2 levels. Ecological Society of America, 12: 175–181.

Wang G, Ngouajio M, McGiffen M E Jr, et al. 2008. Summer cover crop and management system affect lettuce and cantaloupe production system. Agronomy Journal, 100: 1587–1593.

Young I M, Ritz K. 1999. Tillage, habitat space and function of soil microbes. Soil and Tillage Research, 53: 201–213.

No related articles found!