Soil aggregate stability governs field greenhouse gas fluxes in agricultural soils

Stijn G. van den Bergh, Iris Chardon, Márcio F.A. Leite, Gerard W. Korthals, Jochen Mayer, Mathias Cougnon, Dirk Reheul, Wietse de Boer, Paul L.E. Bodelier* (Corresponding author)

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journal/periodicalArticleScientificpeer-review


Agriculture is responsible for 30–50% of the yearly CO2, CH4, and N2O emissions. Soils have an important role in the production and consumption of these greenhouse gases (GHGs), with soil aggregates and the inhabiting microbes proposed to function as biogeochemical reactors, processing these gases. Here we studied, for the first time, the relationship between GHG fluxes and aggregate stability as determined via laser diffraction analysis (LDA) of agricultural soils, as well as the effect of sustainable agricultural management strategies thereon. Using the static chamber method, all soils were found to be sinks for CH4 and sources for CO2 and N2O. The application of organic amendments did not have a conclusive effect on soil GHG fluxes, but tilled soils emitted more CO2. LDA was a useful and improved method for assessing soil aggregate stability, as it allows for the determination of multiple classes of aggregates and their structural composition, thereby overcoming limitations of traditional wet sieving. Organic matter content was the main steering factor of aggregate stability. The presence of persistent stable aggregates and the disintegration coefficient of stable aggregates were improved in organic-amended and no-tilled soils. Predictive modelling showed that, especially in these soils, aggregate stability was a governing factor of GHG fluxes. Higher soil CH4 uptake rates were associated with higher aggregate stability, while CO2 and N2O emissions increased with higher aggregate stability. Altogether, it was shown that sustainable agricultural management strategies can be used to steer the soil's aggregate stability and, both consequently and outright, the soil GHG fluxes, thereby creating a potential to contribute to the mitigation of agricultural GHG emissions.
Original languageEnglish
Article number109354
JournalSoil Biology and Biochemistry
Early online date19 Feb 2024
Publication statusPublished - 01 Apr 2024

Research theme

  • Climate change
  • Sustainable water and land use


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