Declines in soil carbon storage under no tillage can be alleviated in the long run

Andong Cai, Tianfu Han, Tianjing Ren, Jonathan Sanderman, Yichao Rui, Bin Wang, Pete Smith, Minggang Xu, Yu'e Li*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Citations (Scopus)


Improved management of agricultural soils plays a critical role in mitigating climate change. We studied the temporal effects of the adoption of no-tillage (NT) management, often touted as an important carbon sequestration strategy, on soil organic carbon (SOC) storage in surface and subsurface soil layers by performing a meta-analysis of 1061 pairs of published experimental data comparing NT and conventional tillage (CT). In the early years of adoption, NT increased surface (0–10 cm) SOC storage compared to CT but reduced it in deeper layers leading to a decrease of SOC in the entire soil profile. These NT-driven SOC losses diminished over time and the net change was approaching zero at 14 years. Our findings demonstrate that NT is not a simple guaranteed solution for drawing down atmospheric CO2 and regenerating the lost SOC in cropping soils globally and highlight the importance of long-term NT for the recovery of initial SOC losses.

Original languageEnglish
Article number116028
Number of pages3
Early online date8 Jul 2022
Publication statusPublished - 1 Nov 2022


  • Conventional tillage
  • No-tillage
  • Soil carbon
  • Soil profile
  • Time series


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