Long-term effectiveness of sustainable land management practices to control runoff, soil erosion, and nutrient loss and the role of rainfall intensity in Mediterranean rainfed agroecosystems

Martinez-Mena, M.; Carrillo-Lopez, E.; Boix-Fayos, C.; Almagro, M.; Garcia Franco, N.; Diaz-Pereira, E.; Montoya, I.; de Vente, J.

Catena 187: 104352

2020


ISSN/ISBN: 0341-8162
DOI: 10.1016/j.catena.2019.104352
Accession: 070986958

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Abstract
Mediterranean environments are especially susceptible to soil erosion and to inappropriate soil management, leading to accelerated soil loss. Sustainable Land Management (SLM) practices (such as reduced tillage, notillage, cover crops, etc.,) have the potential to reduce soil, organic carbon (OC), and nutrient losses by erosion. However, the effectivity of these practices is site-dependent and varies under different rainfall conditions. The objective of this paper was to evaluate the effects of SLM practices - in two rainfed systems (a wheat field and an almond orchard) representative of a large area of the driest Mediterranean regions - on runoff, soil erosion, particle size distribution, and OC and nutrient (N and P) contents in sediments. The influence of the rainfall characteristics on the effectiveness of the SLM practices was also evaluated. The SLM implemented were: reduced tillage (RT) in the wheat field and almond orchard and reduced tillage combined with green manure (RTG) in the almond orchard; these were compared to conventional tillage, the usual practice in the area. Open erosion plots were set up to monitor the effects of SLM on soil carbon and nutrients and on soil erosion after each rainfall event over six years (2010-2016). The results show that the SLM practices evaluated resulted in increased organic carbon (OC) and nutrients (N and P) contents in the soil, and reduced runoff, erosion, and mobilization of organic carbon and nutrients in sediments. Reductions in runoff of 30% and 65% and decreases in erosion of 65 and 85% were found in the wheat field and almond orchards, respectively. In addition, the total OC, N, and P losses in the wheat field were reduced by 56%, 45%, and 64%, respectively, while in the almond field the OC, N, and P losses were reduced by 90% under RT and by 85% under RTG. The beneficial effect of the SLM practices on soil erosion was observed within 18 months of their implementation and continued throughout the six years of the study. Furthermore, the effectiveness of tillage reduction with respect to erosion control and carbon and nutrients mobilization was highest during the most intense rainfall events, which are responsible for the highest erosion rates in Mediterranean areas. Our results support the key role of SLM practices under semiarid conditions as useful tools for climate change mitigation and adaptation, given the expected increase in high-intensity rainfall events in semiarid areas.