Climate drives global soil carbon sequestration and crop yield changes under conservation agriculture

Wenjuan Sun, Josep G. Canadell, Lijun Yu, Lingfei Yu, Wen Zhang, Pete Smith, Tony Fischer, Yao Huang* (Corresponding Author)

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

129 Citations (Scopus)
17 Downloads (Pure)


Conservation agriculture has been shown to have multiple benefits for soils, crop yield and the environment, and consequently, no-till, the central practice of conservation agriculture, has rapidly expanded. However, studies show that the potential for carbon (C) sequestration in no-till farming sometimes is not realized, let alone the ability to maintain or improve crop yield. Here we present a global analysis of no-till induced changes of soil C and crop yield based on 260 and 1,970 paired studies, respectively. We show that, relative to local conventional tillage, arid regions can benefit the most from conservation agriculture by achieving a win-win outcome of enhanced C sequestration and increased crop yield. However, more humid regions are more likely to increase SOC only, while some colder regions have yield losses with soil C loss as likely as soil C gains. In addition to site-specific characteristics and management, a careful assessment of the regional climate is needed to determine the potential benefits of adopting conservation agriculture.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3325-3335
Number of pages11
JournalGlobal Change Biology
Issue number6
Early online date8 Feb 2020
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 2020

Bibliographical note

This research was supported by the Natural Science Foundation of China (grant Nos. 41530533 and 41573069) and the National Key R&D Program of China (grant No. 2017YFE0104600). We thank Prof. Xuhui Lee in Yale University, Dr. Zhongkui Luo in Zhejiang University, Prof. Ben Smith in Lund University and Dr. Xunyu Hu in East China Inventory and Planning Institute, State Forestry and Grassland Administration for their helpful comments that led to the improvement of this paper.


  • climate
  • conservation agriculture
  • crop yield
  • meta-analysis
  • soil organic carbon
  • win-win outcome


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