Distribution of soil carbon and microbial biomass in arable soils under different tillage regimes

Benhua Sun, Paul D. Hallett, Sandra Caul, Tim J. Daniell, David W. Hopkins*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

73 Citations (Scopus)


We have measured total soil organic carbon (SOC), dissolved organic carbon (DOC), and microbial lipid contents (as indices of microbial biomass and community structure), and their distributions to 60 cm depth in soils from replicated medium-term (2003-2008) experimental arable plots subject to different tillage regimes in Scotland. The treatments were zero tillage (ZT), minimum tillage (MT; cultivation to 7 cm), the conventional tillage (CT) practice of ploughing to 20 cm, and deep ploughing (DP) to 40 cm depth. In the 0-30 cm depth range, SOC content (corrected for bulk density differences between tillage treatments) was greatest under ZT and MT, but over 0-60 cm depth the SOC contents of these treatments were similar to the CT and DP treatments. DOC concentrations declined with increasing depth in ZT and MT above 20 cm, but there were no significant differences with depth in the CT and DP treatments. Beneath 20 cm, there was little change in DOC concentration with depth for all treatments, although for the MT treatment, there was less DOC beneath the depth of cultivation. The total microbial biomass decreased with increasing depth over the 0-60 cm range in the ZT and MT treatments, whereas it decreased with depth only below 30-40 cm in the CT and DP treatments. The microbial biomass was significantly different only between 0-5 cm in the ZT, CT and DP treatments, but not for other depths between all treatments. The bacterial biomass was greater in the ZT treatment than in MT, CT and DP near the soil surface, but not significantly different over the whole profile (0-60 cm). The fungal biomass decreased with depth in the ZT and MT treatments over the whole 0-60 cm depth range, whereas it decreased with depth only below 20 cm in the CT and DP treatments.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)17-25
Number of pages9
JournalPlant and Soil
Issue number1
Early online date24 Jun 2010
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2011


  • microbial biomass
  • crop-rotation systems
  • organic-matter dynamics
  • no-tillage
  • conservation tillage
  • soil organic carbon
  • fungal biomass
  • long-term tillage
  • sequestration rates
  • aggregation
  • cultivated soils
  • tillage regime
  • bacterial biomass
  • residue management
  • nitrogen storage
  • dissolved organic carbon


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