Carbon and nitrogen stocks in the soil and humic substances of agricultural crops in the semi-arid region

ABSTRACT The implementation of conservationist systems of cultivation, with less soil turning and a greater deposition of plant residue, has increased the stocks of C and N in soil and humic substances, but may reduce the quality of the organic matter (SOM). The aim of this study was to evaluate the storage of carbon and nitrogen in plant residue, humic substances and soil at three depths (0-0.2, 0.2-0.4 and 0.4-0.6 m) and under five systems of cultivation: an old banana plantation (14 years cultivation), renovated banana plantation (renewed 1.5 years earlier), sugarcane plantation (two years cultivation), pasture (three-year-old Colonial grass), crotalaria juncea (cultivated yearly for five years) and native forest, as a reference of a natural semi-arid environment. The dry weight of the plant residue deposited on the soil was determined, together with the levels and stocks of total carbon (C) and total nitrogen (TN), the stocks of C and N in the humic substances (fulvic acid, humic acid and humin fractions), and the C/N and C-HF/(C-FAF+C-FAH) ratios. The greatest levels of C were seen in the plant residue from the renewed banana plantation, pasture and crotalaria, but the deposition of dry matter and the stocks of C and TN were higher in the plant residue of the native forest. In the soil, the largest stocks of C and TN were found in the surface layers (0-0.2 and 0.2-0.4 m). The stock of C and TN, and of C in the humic fractions of the SOM did not differ between the majority of the cropping systems or the native forest, indicating the maintenance of C and N in the cultivated soils compared to the native vegetation. Cropping systems that include banana, sugarcane and crotalaria increase the C stock in the humin fraction and the degree of humification of the SOM at most of the soil depths under evaluation.