Authors: M.López-Vicente, J.A.Gómez, G.Guzmán, J.Calero, R.García-Ruiz
Soil erosion plays an important role in C cycling at farm scale, especially in bare soil areas. In Mediterranean woody crops, temporary cover crops (CC) effectively reduce soil erosion and increase total and protected soil organic carbon (SOC) fractions. However, the effects of CC in olive groves on the preferential loss of organic carbon (Corg) fractions remains poorly understood. To address this issue, in four plots with seeded CC and two tilled plots (CT) in a Spanish olive grove, the unprotected and protected Corg fractions were measured in soil and sediments over the course of a hydrological year. The sediment/soil C enrichment ratios (ERSOC) were calculated, and results analysed considering the rainfall regimes of the site: dry (DS), heavy-rainy (HRS) and rainy (RS). Total, unprotected and protected Corg contents in the top 5 cm soil of CC plots were 46 %, 88.4 % and 28.5 %, respectively, higher than those of CT. 79.7 % and 70.3 % of the annual sediment yield (SY) was collected during December in CC and CT plots, respectively. Soil loss in CC plots ( = 9.2 Mg ha–1 yr–1) was significantly lower (−55.6 %) than that in CT plots. Despite that the average eroded Corg was higher in the CT ( = 222 kg C ha–1 yr–1) compared to CC ( = 148 kg C ha–1 yr–1) plots differences were not significant due to the higher Corg concentration in the sediment from CC plots. The highest proportion of eroded Corg (44%–45%) corresponded to the physically protected fraction. The highest ERSOC (1.99 and 2.04 for CC and CT, respectively) was recorded in DS whereas the lowest was in the RS (0.90) and HRS (0.96) seasons. The mean ERSOC were of 1.00 and 0.92 in the CC and CT plots, with no significant difference. The fact that most of the SY was recorded in one month, when CC plants were not fully developed, might explain the ERSOC at 1, and why their presence did not modify it. This study demonstrates that CC favours greater total, unprotected and protected Corg fractions in the topsoil, promoting soil C sequestration. The asynchrony between the periods of full development of the CC plants and those with the highest rainfall erosivity prevented any selectiveness of the eroded Corg. Thus, fast-growing CC plant species with short life-cycles are recommended, as well as adequate management to promote self-seeding avoiding soil disturbance for seeding in erosion prone seasons.