A meta-analysis of soil organic matter response to soil management practices: An approach to evaluate conservation indicators

Carmen Marlene Ugarte, H. Kwon, S. S. Andrews, Michelle M Wander

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


Increased understanding of the influences of management practices on soil properties and associated ecosystem function is needed to improve tools used to administer conservation programs in the United States. This study used meta-analysis to assess the influence of cropping systems (conventional, conservation with minimum tillage, conservation with no-till, and organic systems) and management practices (nitrogen [N] fertility and rotation length) on soil organic carbon (SOC). These factors are considered by tools that evaluate conservation performance and provision of ecosystem services. We also reviewed the literature to determine whether this approach could be applied to other proxy variables (erosion rates, soil erodibility factor [K values], available phosphorus [P], and nitrous oxide [N2O]). Data mining was used to populate a database with variables representing practices used by the Natural Resource Conservation Service's Conservation Measurement Tool (CMT) to determine eligibility for the Conservation Stewardship Program. Data collected from 55 peer-reviewed studies was categorized based on sampling depth (0 to 10, 0 to 15, 0 to 20, and 0 to 30 cm [0 to 3.9, 0 to 5.9, 0 to 7.8, and 0 to 11.8 in]). The magnitude of the effect estimated by meta-analysis was then compared to scores assigned to practices in the soil quality module of the CMT. Meta-analysis of data from the 0 to 20 cm (0 to 7.8 in) depth suggested that rates of SOC accrual were similar in organic systems using diversified crop rotations and conservation systems using inorganic fertility sources, increasing SOC by 9% compared to the conventional control. In comparisons at the 0 to 30 cm (0 to 11.8 in) depth, results from conservation systems using no-till and organic systems diverged, with conservation systems relying on no-till producing no gains while organic systems produced a 29% increase in SOC. While the use of organic amendments generally increased SOC, the magnitude of the effect was more modest than suggested by current CMT weighting. In addition, our results suggested that quality of manure, which is not differentiated in the CMT, influences the magnitude of the effect and that addition of wet manure may decrease SOC. A comparison of rotation length showed cropping systems with rotations of 3 years or longer were better able to increase SOC than shorter rotations. These findings suggested that the CMT generally ranks practices appropriately and shows how meta-analysis could be used to adjust credits awarded for use of reduced or no-till practices or different fertility sources.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)422-430
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Soil and Water Conservation
Issue number5
StatePublished - Sep 1 2014


  • Conservation measurement tool
  • Cropping systems
  • Soil management practices
  • Soil organic carbon

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Agronomy and Crop Science
  • Water Science and Technology
  • Soil Science
  • Nature and Landscape Conservation


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