Effects of grassland renovation on carbon concentrations and aggregate distribution in temperate grassland soils
The effects of continuous tillage on the distribution of soil organic matter (SOM) and aggregates have been well studied for arable soils. However, less is known about the effects of sporadic tillage on SOM and aggregate dynamics in grassland soils. The objectives of the present thesis were (I) to study the longer-term effects of sporadic tillage of grassland on organic carbon (Corg) stocks and the distribution of aggregates and SOM, (II) to investigate the combined effects of sporadic tillage and fertilization on carbon and nitrogen dynamics in grassland soils, and (III) to study the temporal dynamics of Corg stocks, aggregate distribution and microbial biomass in grassland soils. Soil samples were taken in three soil depths (0 – 10 cm; 10 – 25 cm; 25 – 40 cm) from a field trial with loamy sandy soils (Cambisols, Eutric Luvisols, Stagnosols, Anthrosols) north of Kiel, Germany. For Objective I we have sampled soil two and five years after one or two tillage operation(s). Treatments consisted of (i) permanent grassland, (ii) tillage of grassland followed by a re-establishment of grassland and (iii) tillage of grassland followed by a re-establishment of grassland with one season of winter wheat in between. The tillage in grassland led to a reduction in Corg stocks, large macroaggregates (>2000 µm) and SOM in the top 10 cm soil depth. These findings were still significant two years after tillage; however, five years after tillage no longer present. Regarding the soil profile (0 – 40 cm) no significant differences in the mentioned parameters between the tilled plots and the permanent grassland existed. A second tillage event and the insertion of one season of winter wheat did not lead to any further effects on Corg stocks as well as aggregate and SOM concentrations in comparison with a single tillage event in these grassland soils. Treatments adapted for Objective II included (i) long-term grassland and (ii) tillage of grassland followed by a re-establishment of grassland with one season of winter wheat in between. The plots were split and received either 240 kg N ha-1 year-1 in the form of cattle slurry or no cattle slurry application. The application of slurry within a period of four years had no effects on the Corg and total nitrogen stocks or the aggregate distribution, but led to a reduction of free and not physically protected SOM. However, the application of cattle slurry and the grassland renovation seems to change the plant species composition and therefore generalizations on the direct effects are not yet possible. For studying Objective III a further field trial was initiated in September 2010. Soil samples were taken six times within one year (from October 2010 to October 2011) (i) after the conversion from arable land into grassland, (ii) after the tillage of grassland followed by a re-establishment of grassland and (iii) in a permanent grassland. We found an increase in the microbial and fungal biomass after the conversion of arable land into grassland, but no effect on aggregate distribution and Corg stocks. A one-time tillage operation in grassland led to a reduction in large macroaggregates and Corg stocks in the top 10 cm soil depth with no effect on the sampled soil profile. However, we found large variations in the fungal biomass and aggregate distribution within one year in the permanent grassland, presumably caused by environmental factors. Overall, our results suggest that a single tillage operation in grassland soils markedly decreased the concentrations of Corg, larger aggregates and SOM. However, this does not result in long-lasting effects on the above mentioned parameters. The application of slurry cannot compensate the negative effects of a tillage event on aggregate concentrations or Corg stocks. However, while the Corg concentration is not subject to fluctuations within a year, there are large variations of the aggregate distribution even in a permanent grassland soil. Therefore conclusions of results from a single sampling time should be handled with care.