Dynamics of aggregate stability influenced by soil management and crop residues
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The type of tillage and crop systems used can either degrade or cause a recovery of the structure of agricultural soils. The objective of this study was to determine the structural stability of the soil using mean weight diameter (MWD) of soil aggregates in three different periods of a succession of crops consisting of beans/cover plants/maize under no tillage (NT) and conventional tillage (CT) management systems. Soils were sampled at 0- to 5-cm and 5- to 15-cm depths in three periods (P1, P2, P3): 1) November 2002 (spring/summer), 2) April 2003 (beginning of autumn), and 3) December 2003 (end of spring/beginning of summer). Aggregate stability was determined by wet sieving. The effects of the tillage systems, vegetal residues, and sampling depths on the structural stability of the aggregates were assessed and then related to organic matter (OM) contents. Aggregate stability showed temporal variation as a function of OM contents and sampling period. No tillage led to high MWD values in all study periods. The lowest MWD values and OM contents were observed 4 months after the management of the residues of cover plants. This finding is consistent with the fact that at the time of the samplings, most of the OM had already mineralized. The residues of sunn-hemp, millet, and spontaneous vegetation showed similar effects on soil aggregate stability.