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ISHS Acta Horticulturae 1146: III International Symposium on Organic Matter Management and Compost Use in Horticulture

The complexity of soil biological sustainability

Authors:   M. De Nobili, P.C. Brookes, M.A. Sánchez-Monedero, M. Contin
Keywords:   soil sustainability, soil resilience, organic matter, biological properties
DOI:   10.17660/ActaHortic.2016.1146.9
Additions of organic amendments to soil not only compensate for decreased soil C, but also contribute to energy requirements for conserving biological activity levels. The soil microbial biomass displays some highly conserved, and possibly unique, characteristics that do not permit a classic interpretation of microbial metabolic parameter data. The resilience of soil microbial biomass and the role of soil organic matter in sustaining microbial biomass under practically zero C inputs were assessed in two long term incubation experiments using soils from the Broadbalk experiment at Rothamsted (UK). Soils with low organic C contents, showed the greatest decline in biomass C during the first 30 d of incubation. The ATP concentration of this rapidly declining microbial biomass did not change during the prolonged incubation period, confirming this peculiar character of the soil microbial biomass. Specific respiration rate did not depend upon substrate availability, being higher in soils that had received the lowest C inputs. Qualitative and quantitative changes observed in humic fractions suggest that humified soil organic matter is a much more dynamic soil fraction than is normally considered and provides a utilizable energy reserve for soil microorganisms. Carbon levels can be successfully restored in soils through practices such as incorporation of crop residues, re-vegetation and application of manures, biosolids and composts. Some amendments, such as olive mill waste compost, promote incorporation of altered lignin structures, N-containing compounds and carbohydrates into humic acids. The mineral-bound fraction of humic C also increases, after their addition, and contributes to the accumulation of the most inert soil C pools.

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