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Impacts of zero tillage on soil enzyme activities, microbial characteristics and organic matter functional chemistry in temperate soils


S. Mangalassery

Sacha J. Mooney

D.L. Sparkes

W.T. Fraser



Zero tillage management of agricultural soils has potential for enhancing soil carbon (C) storage and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. However, the mechanisms which control carbon (C) sequestration in soil in response to zero tillage are not well understood. The aim of this study was to investigate the links between zero tillage practices and the functioning of the soil microbial community with regards to C cycling, testing the hypothesis that zero tillage enhances biological functioning in soil with positive implications for C sequestration. Specifically, we determined microbial respiration rates, enzyme activities, carbon source utilization and the functional chemistry of the soil organic matter in temperate well drained soils that had been zero tilled for seven years against annually tilled soils. Zero tilled soils contained 9% more soil C, 30% higher microbial biomass C than tilled soil and an increased presence of aromatic functional groups indicating greater preservation of recalcitrant C. Greater CO2 emission and higher respirational quotients were observed from tilled soils compared to zero tilled soils while microbial biomass was 30% greater in zero tilled soils indicating a more efficient functioning of the microbial community under zero tillage practice. Furthermore, microbial enzyme activities of dehydrogenase, cellulase, xylanase, ?-glucosidase, phenol oxidase and peroxidase were higher in zero tilled soils. Considering zero tillage enhanced both microbial functioning and C storage in soil, we suggest that it offers significant promise to improve soil health and support mitigation measures against climate change.


Mangalassery, S., Mooney, S. J., Sparkes, D., Fraser, W., & Sjögersten, S. (2015). Impacts of zero tillage on soil enzyme activities, microbial characteristics and organic matter functional chemistry in temperate soils. European Journal of Soil Biology, 68,

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Mar 5, 2015
Online Publication Date Mar 7, 2015
Publication Date May 1, 2015
Deposit Date Mar 8, 2017
Publicly Available Date Mar 8, 2017
Journal European Journal of Soil Biology
Print ISSN 1164-5563
Electronic ISSN 1164-5563
Publisher Elsevier
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 68
Keywords Carbon sequestration; Microbial biomass carbon; Greenhouse gases; Soil enzymes; Soil organic matter; Soil microbial functional diversity
Public URL
Publisher URL


EJSB (68)2015 9-17.pdf (559 Kb)

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