What are the effects of agricultural management on soil organic carbon in boreo-temperate systems? (systematic map)


Soils contain the largest stock of organic carbon (C) in terrestrial ecosystems and changes in soil C stocks may significantly affect atmospheric CO2. A significant part of soil C is present in cultivated soils that occupy about 35 % of the global land surface. Agricultural intensification has led to practices that may decrease soil organic carbon (SOC), and agricultural management has the potential to be a powerful tool for climate change mitigation and increased soil fertility through SOC sequestration. Here, we systematically map evidence relating to the impacts of agricultural management on SOC in arable systems of the warm temperate and snow climate zones (subset of temperate and continental climates: Köppen–Geiger Classification).


Seventeen academic citation databases, 3 search engines and 25 organisational websites were searched for literature (academic and grey) using search strings translated into a range of languages relevant to the included geographical scope of the topic. Stakeholders were also contacted with requests for evidence. Bibliographic checking of 127 relevant reviews was undertaken to check for missing articles. Screening for relevance against predefined inclusion criteria was undertaken at title, abstract and full text levels according to a published protocol. All relevant studies were coded in a meta-database describing the citation, study settings, methods and quantitative data available (without extraction of the study findings). A basic critical appraisal of included studies was also performed. A geographical information system (GIS) presenting the map database on a physical, online map was also produced.


A total of 735 studies from 553 articles was included in the systematic map database. Studies investigated one or more of five broad categories of interventions: amendments (286 studies), crop rotations (238), fertilisers (307), tillage (306), and multiple interventions (55). Studies were identified from across the includible climate zones, with the notable underrepresentation from Russia. The majority of studies employed only point sampling of SOC, low levels of true spatial replication and moderate study periods (i.e. 10–20 years). Missing key methodological information was found in 28 % of studies.


Long-term study sites identified in this map provide a useful addition to existing databases of long-term experiments (LTEs). The identification of knowledge gaps, such as studies from Russia, also identify a need for improved cataloguing or reporting of existing and on-going research. This systematic map database represents a useful resource for decision-makers wishing to identify knowledge gaps warranting further primary research, knowledge gluts warranting further secondary research, and deficiencies and best practice in research methodology. In addition to the systematic map database, we have also produced two further resources: (1) a database of LTE sites investigating agricultural management and SOC, and (2) a database of reviews and meta-analyses. To our knowledge, this is the first systematic review or map that utilises a GIS for presentation of an evidence base, which we believe substantially increases the utility of the map outputs.


Soil carbon, Carbon storage, Carbon sequestration, Conservation agriculture, Agricultural practices, Long-term, Amendments, Crop rotation, Fertilisation, Tillage


Changes in soil organic carbon (SOC) stocks significantly influence the atmospheric C concentration. Agricultural management practices that increase SOC stocks thus may have profound effects on climate mitigation. Additional benefits include higher soil fertility since increased SOC stocks improve the physical and biological properties of the soil. Intensification of agriculture and land-use change from grasslands to croplands are generally known to deplete SOC stocks. The depletion is exacerbated through agricultural practices with low return of organic material and various mechanisms, such as oxidation/mineralization, leaching and erosion. However, a systematic review comparing the efficacy of different agricultural management practices to increase SOC stocks has not yet been produced. Since there are diverging views on this matter, a systematic review would be timely for framing policies not only nationally in Sweden, but also internationally, for promoting long-term sustainable management of soils and mitigating climate change.


The systematic review will examine how changes in SOC are affected by a range of soil-management practices relating to tillage management, addition of crop residues, manure or other organic “wastes”, and different crop rotation schemes. Within the warm temperate and the snow climate zones, agricultural management systems in which wheat, barley, rye, oats, silage maize or oilseed rape can grow in the crop rotation will be selected. The review will exclusively focus on studies conducted over at least 10 years. Searches will be made in 15 publication databases as well as in specialist databases. Articles found will be screened using inclusion/exclusion criteria at title, abstract and full-text levels, and screening consistency will be evaluated using Kappa tests. Data from articles that remain after critical appraisal will be extracted using a predefined spreadsheet. Subgroup analyses will be undertaken to elucidate statistical relationships that are specific to particular type of management interventions. Meta-regression within subgroups will be performed as well as sensitivity analysis to investigate the impact of removing groups of studies with low or unclear quality.