Journal of Arid Land


Soil structure is a dynamic property affected by physical, chemical, and microbiological processes. Addition of organic matter to soils and the use of different management practices have been reported to impact soil structure and crop production. Moderation in soil temperature and increases in microbial activity and soil water retention are often suggested as reasons for the rise in crop yield when organic matter is added to the soil. Less is known about the direct effect of changes in soil structure on crop production. A field experiment was conducted to study the effect of summer cover crop and in-season management system on soil structure. The experiment was a nested design with summer cover crop as the main plot and management system as the subplot. Summer cover crop treatments included cowpea (Vigna unguiculata L. Walp.) incorporated into the soil in the fall (CI), cowpea used as mulch in the fall (CM), sudangrass (Sorghum vulgare) incorporated into the soil in the fall (S), and dry fallow or bare ground (B). Management systems were organic (ORG) and conventional (CNV) systems. Lettuce (Lactuca sativa L.) and cantaloupes (Cucumis melo L.) were cultivated in rotation in the plots for three consecutive years using the same cover crops and management systems for each plot. Disturbed and undisturbed soil cores were collected at the end of the third year and used for laboratory experiments to measure physical, chemical, and hydraulic properties. Image analysis was used to quantify soil structure properties using a scanning electron microscope on thin sections prepared from the undisturbed soil cores. We found that total soil carbon was correlated with porosity, saturation percentage, and pore roughness. Pore roughness was correlated with crop production in general and with marketable production in particular. We found that the higher the complexity of the pore space, the more water retained in the soil, which may increase soil water residence and reduce plant water stress.


summer cover crop; management systems; soil structure properties; total carbon

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