On this page you will find a list of peer-reviewed scientific publications from the project.


Reviewed articles 2017

Challenges of conservation agriculture practices on silty soils. Effects on soil pore and gas transport characteristics in North-eastern Italy

Piccoli, I., P. Schjønning, M. Lamandé, L. Furlan, and F. Morari.

Soil air exchange is one of the most important soil functions that directly impacts on crop productivity and environment. Generally, conservation agriculture (CA) practices are expected to provide improved soil aeration but contrasting texture-related effects were found in the literature. The aim of this study was to evaluate the effect of CA practices on gas transport characteristics in the silty soils of the Veneto Region (North-Eastern Italy). In 2010, a field experiment comparing CA practices (no-tillage, cover crop and residues retention) to conventional intensive tillage (IT) system was established in four farms located in the Veneto low plain. In fall 2015, 144 undisturbed 100 cm3 soil cores where collected at two different layers (3–6.5 cm and 20–23.5 cm) and analysed for air-filled porosity, air permeability, gas diffusivity and soil structure indices derived.

Gas transport measurements highlighted low transmission properties of the silty soils independently from agronomic management. Both air permeability and relative gas diffusivity showed poor aerated conditions being generally <20 μm2 and <0.005, respectively.

CA treatments affected the transmission properties only in the coarsest soil studied causing a reduction of air permeability in the deeper layer and relative gas diffusivity in both layers. The CA-induced reduction was related to the tillage effect on soil bulk density and suggested that CA not only affected the air-filled porosity but also continuity and tortuosity characteristics.

The poor structural stability of Veneto soils, particularly the poor soil organic carbon content, could prevent the exploitation of CA practices firstly on soil structure and in turn on gas exchanges. For these reasons further studies elucidating the mechanisms improving soil structural conditions for silty soils as those examined in this study are required.

 Published in: Soil and Tillage Research 172 (2017): 12-21.


Contact: Per.Schjonning@agro.au.dk


Rainfall simulation and Structure-from-Motion photogrammetry for the analysis of soil water erosion in Mediterranean vineyards.

Prosdocimi M, Burguet M, Di Prima S, Sofia G, Terol Esparza E, Rodrigo Comino J, Cerdà A, Tarolli P.

Soil water erosion is a serious problem, especially in agricultural lands. Among these, vineyards deserve attention, because they constitute for the Mediterranean areas a type of land use affected by high soil losses. A significant problem related to the study of soil water erosion in these areas consists in the lack of a standardized procedure of collecting data and reporting results, mainly due to a variability among the measurement methods applied. Given this issue and the seriousness of soil water erosion in Mediterranean vineyards, this works aims to quantify the soil losses caused by simulated rainstorms, and compare them with each other depending on two different methodologies: (i) rainfall simulation and (ii) surface elevation change-based, relying on high-resolution Digital Elevation Models (DEMs) derived from a photogrammetric technique (Structure-from-Motion or SfM). The experiments were carried out in a typical Mediterranean vineyard, located in eastern Spain, at very fine scales. SfM data were obtained from one reflex camera and a smartphone built-in camera. An index of sediment connectivity was also applied to evaluate the potential effect of connectivity within the plots. DEMs derived from the smartphone and the reflex camera were comparable with each other in terms of accuracy and capability of estimating soil loss. Furthermore, soil loss estimated with the surface elevation change-based method resulted to be of the same order of magnitude of that one obtained with rainfall simulation, as long as the sediment connectivity within the plot was considered. High-resolution topography derived from SfM revealed to be essential in the sediment connectivity analysis and, therefore, in the estimation of eroded materials, when comparing them to those derived from the rainfall simulation methodology. The fact that smartphones built-in cameras could produce as much satisfying results as those derived from reflex cameras is a high value added for using SfM.

Published in Science of the Total Environment, 2017,  574, 204-215.

DOI: 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2016.09.036.


Reviewed articles 2016

Upper subsoil pore characteristics and functions as affected by field traffic and freeze–thaw and dry–wet treatments

Per Schjønning, Per, Mathieu Lamandé, Valentin Crétin, and Janne Aalborg Nielsen.

Cultivated soils are subject to very high stresses from machinery. This may affect the soil pore system and its processes, soil functions and soil ecosystem services. Compaction experiments were performed on loamy Luvisols at three sites in Denmark: Aarslev, Flakkebjerg and Taastrup. Non-trafficked control soil was compared with soil subjected to four annual traffic events with approximately 3-, 6- or 8-Mg wheel loads from tractor–trailer combinations. A self-propelled machine with a single pass of approximately 12-Mg wheel load was tested at Aarslev. Undisturbed soil cores were sampled at 0.3m depth when the experimental plots had received either 2 years (Flakkebjerg) or 3 years (Aarslev and Taastrup) of repeated compaction treatment. The volume of air-filled pores and air permeability were quantified for soil drained to –100 hPa matric potential. Freeze–thaw and dry–wet treatments were applied to soil cores in the laboratory for Aarslev and Taastrup samples. The multipass machinery significantly affected >30 mm soil pores and air permeability at wheel loads of ~6 Mg or higher, whereas no or only minor effects could be detected for ~3-Mg wheel loads. Indices combining air permeabilities with air-filled porosities indicated that pore morphological features had also been affected. Estimates of hydraulic conductivity indicated critical conditions for the percolation of excess rainwater for severely compacted soil at Aarslev. Generally, the single-pass machine with a high wheel load did not affect the pores and their function. A dry–wet event was a more effective remediation of compaction than a freeze–thaw treatment. In conclusion, present-day field traffic risks creating a bottleneck soil layer for important soil functions just below the tilled topsoil

 Published in Soil Research, 2017


Contact: Per.Schjonning@agro.au.dk

Mulching practices for reducing soil water erosion: A review

Prosdocimi, M., Tarolli, P., Cerdà, A.

Among the soil conservation practices that are used, mulching has been successfully applied to reduce soil and water losses in different contexts, such as agricultural lands, fire-affected areas, rangelands and anthropic sites. In these contexts, soil erosion by water is a serious problem, especially in semi-arid and semi-humid areas of the world. Although the beneficial effects of mulching are known, further research is needed to quantify them, especially in areas where soil erosion by water represents a severe threat. In the literature, there are still some uncertainties about how to maximize the effectiveness of mulching to reduce the soil and water loss rates. Given the seriousness of soil erosion by water and the uncertainties that are still associated with the correct use of mulching, this study review aims to (i) develop a documented and global database on the use of mulching with vegetative residues; (ii) quantify the effects of mulching on soil and water losses based on different measurement methods and, consequently, different spatial scales; (iii) evaluate the effects of different types of mulches on soil and water losses based on different measurement methods; and (iv) provide suggestions for more sustainable soil management. The data published in the literature have been collected. The results showed the beneficial effects of mulching in combating soil erosion by water in all of the environments considered here, with reduction rates in the average sediment concentration, soil loss and runoff volume that, in some cases, exceeded 90%. However, the economic feasibility of mulching application was not readily available in the literature. Therefore, more research should be performed to help both farmers and land managers by providing them with evidence-based means for implementing more sustainable soil management practices.

Published in Earth-Science Reviews, 2016, 161: 191–203.

DOI: 10.1016/j.earscirev.2016.08.006


The use of barley straw residues to avoid high erosion and runoff rates on persimmon plantations in Eastern Spain under low frequency – high magnitude simulated rainfall events

Cerdà, A., González-Pelayo, O., Giménez-Morera, A., Jordán, A., Pereira, P., Novara, A., Brevik, E.C., Prosdocimi, M., Mahmoodabadi, M., Keesstra, S., García Orenes, F., Ritsema, C., .

Soil and water losses due to agricultural mismanagement are high and non-sustainable in many orchards. An experiment was set up with rainfall simulation at 78 mm h–1 over 1 hour on 20 paired plots of 2 m2 (bare and straw covered) in new persimmon plantations in Eastern Spain. Effects of straw cover on the control of soil and water losses were assessed. An addition of 60% straw cover (75 g m–2) resulted in delayed ponding and runoff generation and consequently reduced water losses from 60% to 13% of total rainfall. The straw cover reduced raindrop impact and thus sediment detachment from 1014 to 47 g plot–1 h–1. The erosion rate was reduced from 5.1 to 0.2 Mg ha–1 h–1. The straw mulch was found to be extremely efficient in reducing soil erosion rates.

Published in Soil Res, 2016, 54, 2, 154-165

DOI: 10.1071/SR15092


Effects of Soil Management Techniques on Soil Water Erosion in Apricot Orchards. 

Keesstra, S., P. Pereira, A. Novara, E. C. Brevik, C. Azorin-Molina, L. Parras-Alcántara, A. Jordán, and A. Cerdà.

Soil erosion is extreme in Mediterranean orchards due to management impact, high rainfall intensities, steep slopes and erodible parent material. Vall d'Albaida is a traditional fruit production area which, due to the Mediterranean climate and marly soils, produces sweet fruits. However, these highly productive soils are left bare under the prevailing land management and marly soils are vulnerable to soil water erosion when left bare. In this paper we study the impact of different agricultural land management strategies on soil properties (bulk density, soil organic matter, soil moisture), soil water erosion and runoff, by means of simulated rainfall experiments and soil analyses. Three representative land managements (tillage/herbicide/covered with vegetation) were selected, where 20 paired plots (60 plots) were established to determine soil losses and runoff. The simulated rainfall was carried out at 55 mm h− 1 in the summer of 2013 (< 8% soil moisture) for one hour on 0.25 m2 circular plots. The results showed that vegetation cover, soil moisture and organic matter were significantly higher in covered plots than in tilled and herbicide treated plots. However, runoff coefficient, total runoff, sediment yield and soil erosion were significantly higher in herbicide treated plots compared to the others. Runoff sediment concentration was significantly higher in tilled plots. The lowest values were identified in covered plots. Overall, tillage, but especially herbicide treatment, decreased vegetation cover, soil moisture, soil organic matter, and increased bulk density, runoff coefficient, total runoff, sediment yield and soil erosion. Soil erosion was extremely high in herbicide plots with 0.91 Mg ha− 1 h− 1 of soil lost; in the tilled fields erosion rates were lower with 0.51 Mg ha− 1 h− 1. Covered soil showed an erosion rate of 0.02 Mg ha− 1 h− 1. These results showed that agricultural management influenced water and sediment dynamics and that tillage and herbicide treatment should be avoided.

Published in Science of the Total Environment, 2016.  551-552: 357-366.



Soil precompression stress, penetration resistance and crop yields in relation to differently-trafficked, temperate-region sandy loam soils.

Per Schjønning, Mathieu Lamandé, Lars J. Munkholm, Henning S. Lyngvig, and Janne Aa Nielsen.

Compaction of the subsoil due to heavy traffic in moist and wet soil is widespread in modern agriculture. The objective of this study was to quantify the effects from realistic field traffic on soil penetration resistance and barley crop yield for three Luvisols developed from glacial till. Undisturbed soil cores were used for quantifying the precompression stress (Ͽpc) of non-compacted soil. Tractor-trailer combinations for slurry application with wheel loads of ⿼3, ⿼6 and ⿼8 Mg (treatments M3, M6, M8) were used for the experimental traffic in the spring at field-capacity. For one additional treatment (labelled M8-1), the soil was loaded only in the first year. A tricycle-like machine with a single pass of wide tyres each carrying ⿼12 Mg (treatment S12) was included at one site. Traffic treatments were applied in a randomized block design with four replicates and with treatments repeated in four consecutive years (2010⿿2013). After two years of repeated experimental traffic, penetration resistance (PR) was measured to a depth of 1 m. The yield of a spring barley crop (Hordeum vulgare L.) was recorded in all four years of the experiment. The results did not support our hypothesis of Ͽpc as a soil strength measure predicting resistance to subsoil compaction. The tyre inflation pressure and/or the mean ground pressure were the main predictors of PR in the upper soil layers. For deeper soil layers, PR correlated better to the wheel load. The number of wheel passes (M-treatments vs the S12 treatment) modified this general pattern, indicating a very strong impact of repeated wheel passes. Our data indicate that a single traffic event may mechanically weaken the soil without inducing major compaction but with influence on the effect of subsequent traffic even after as long an interval as a year (treatments M8 vs M8-1). Crop yields were much influenced by compaction of the plough layer. Due to the repeated wheel passes for the M-treatments, significant yield penalties were observed, while the single-pass treatment with 12 Mg wheel load in S12 did not have significant effects on crop yield. Our hypothesis of 3 Mg wheel load as an upper threshold for not inducing subsoil compaction was confirmed for the tractor-trailer treatments with repeated wheel passes but not supported for the single-pass machinery. The results call for further studies of the potential for carrying high loads using wide, low-pressure tyres by crab steering/dog-walk machinery.

Published in: Soil and Tillage Research 163 (2016): 298-308.



Quantitative Comparison of Initial Soil Erosion Processes and Runoff Generation in Spanish and German Vineyards.

Rodrigo Comino, J., T. Iserloh, T. Lassu, A. Cerdà, S. D. Keesstra, M. Prosdocimi, C. Brings, et al.

The aim of this study was to enable a quantitative comparison of initial soil erosion processes in European vineyards using the same methodology and equipment. The study was conducted in four viticultural areas with different characteristics (Valencia and Málaga in Spain, Ruwer-Mosel valley and Saar-Mosel valley in Germany). Old and young vineyards, with conventional and ecological planting and management systems were compared. The same portable rainfall simulator with identical rainfall intensity (40 mm h− 1) and sampling intervals (30 min of test duration, collecting the samples at 5-min-intervals) was used over a circular test plot with 0.28 m2.

The results of 83 simulations have been analysed and correlation coefficients were calculated for each study area to identify the relationship between environmental plot characteristics, soil texture, soil erosion, runoff and infiltration.

The results allow for identification of the main factors related to soil properties, topography and management, which control soil erosion processes in vineyards. The most important factors influencing soil erosion and runoff were the vegetation cover for the ecological German vineyards (with 97.6 ± 8% infiltration coefficients) and stone cover, soil moisture and slope steepness for the conventional land uses.

Published in Science of the Total Environment, 2016, 565: 1165-1174.



Soil Erosion Processes in European Vineyards: A Qualitative Comparison of Rainfall Simulation Measurements in Germany, Spain and France

Rodrigo Comino J, Iserloh T, Morvan X, Malam Issa O, Naisse C, Keesstra SD, Cerdà A, Prosdocimi M, Arnáez J, Lasanta T, Ramos MC, Marqués MJ, Ruiz Colmenero M, Bienes R, Ruiz Sinoga JD, Seeger M, Ries JB 

 Small portable rainfall simulators are considered a useful tool to analyze soil erosion processes in cultivated lands. European research groups in Spain (Valencia, Málaga, Lleida, Madrid and La Rioja), France (Reims) and Germany (Trier) have used different rainfall simulators (varying in drop size distribution and fall velocities, kinetic energy, plot forms and sizes, and field of application) to study soil loss, surface flow, runoff and infiltration coefficients in different experimental plots (Valencia, Montes de Málaga, Penedès, Campo Real and La Rioja in Spain, Champagne in France and Mosel-Ruwer valley in Germany). The measurements and experiments developed by these research teams give an overview of the variety of methodologies used in rainfall simulations to study the problem of soil erosion and describe the erosion features in different climatic environments, management practices and soil types. The aims of this study are: (i) to investigate where, how and why researchers from different wine-growing regions applied rainfall simulations with successful results as a tool to measure soil erosion processes; (ii) to make a qualitative comparison about the general soil erosion processes in European terroirs; (iii) to demonstrate the importance of the development of standard method for measurement of soil erosion processes in vineyards, using rainfall simulators; and (iv) and to analyze the key factors that should be taken into account to carry out rainfall simulations. The rainfall simulations in all cases allowed infiltration capacity, susceptibility of the soil to detachment and generation of sediment loads to runoff to be determined. Despite using small plots, the experiments were useful to analyze the influence of soil cover to reduce soil erosion, to make comparisons between different locations, and to evaluate the influence of different soil characteristics. The comparative analysis of the studies performed in different study areas points out the need to define an operational methodology to carry out rainfall simulations, which allows us to obtain representative and comparable results and to avoid errors in the interpretation in order to achieve comparable information about runoff and soil loss.

Published in Hydrology, 2016, 3 (1), 6; 2016


Community-Based Rehabilitation of Mountain Terraces in Cyprus. 

Christos Zoumides, Adriana Bruggeman, Elias Giannakis, Corrado Camera, Hakan Djuma, Marinos Eliades, Katerina Charalambous

Participatory methods and community-based approaches have an important role to play in combating land degradation. This paper follows a well-defined participatory framework to identify key stakeholders and to select Sustainable Land Management approaches for reducing soil erosion and land degradation in the Troodos Mountains of Cyprus. Among the options suggested and evaluated by stakeholders, terrace rehabilitation had the best overall performance, followed by crop diversification and afforestation. Stakeholders agreed that the rehabilitation of dry-stone terraces was the preferred option, as it is a practice with high environmental benefits and fits well in the local socio-cultural context, despite the higher cost compared to other options. In the first year of implementing the approach, three mountain communities co-organised hands-on terrace maintenance events, engaging more than 160 people in rehabilitation activities. The community-based approach has sparked the interest of people within and beyond the research site, and another series of events is scheduled for the coming season. This outcome indicates that social innovations can benefit from the integration of local and scientific knowledge, while participatory process can enhance the self-confidence and organisational structures of local communities. Sustaining and enhancing the impact of the approach in the long-run require developing local terrace maintenance institutions, actively engaging the youth in terrace management and improving the profitability of mountain farming through the differentiation of local products.

Published in Land Degradation & Development (2016) August 1

DOI: 10.1002/ldr.2586
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Operationalizing Ecosystem Services for the Mitigation of Soil Threats: A Proposed Framework /G. Schwilch, L. Bernet, L. Fleskens, E. Giannakis, J. Leventon, T. Marañón, J. Mills, C. Short, J. Stolte, H. van Delden, S. Verzandvoort 

Despite numerous research efforts over the last decades, integrating the concept of ecosystem services into land management decision-making continues to pose considerable challenges. Researchers have developed many different frameworks to operationalize the concept, but these are often specific to a certain issue and each has their own definitions and understandings of particular terms. Based on a comprehensive review of the current scientific debate, the EU FP7 project RECARE proposes an adapted framework for soil-related ecosystem services that is suited for practical application in the prevention and remediation of soil degradation across Europe. We have adapted existing frameworks by integrating components from soil science while attempting to introduce a consistent terminology that is understandable to a variety of stakeholders. RECARE aims to assess how soil threats and prevention and remediation measures affect ecosystem services. Changes in the natural capital's properties influence soil processes, which support the provision of ecosystem services. The benefits produced by these ecosystem services are explicitly or implicitly valued by individuals and society. This can influence decision- and policymaking at different scales, potentially leading to a societal response, such as improved land management. The proposed ecosystem services framework will be applied by the RECARE project in a transdisciplinary process. It will assist in singling out the most beneficial land management measures and in identifying trade-offs and win–win situations resulting from and impacted by European policies. The framework thus reflects the specific contributions soils make to ecosystem services and helps reveal changes in ecosystem services caused by soil management and policies impacting on soil. At the same time, the framework is simple and robust enough for practical application in assessing soil threats and their management with stakeholders at various levels.

Published in Ecological Indicators Volume 67, August 2016, Pages 586–597


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Combining qualitative and quantitative methods for soil erosion assessments: an application in a sloping mediterranean watershed, Cyprus

Hakan Djuma,Adriana Bruggeman,Corrado Camera,Christos ZoumidesDjuma, H., Bruggeman, A., Camera, C. and Zoumides,

In arid and semi-arid regions, water erosion is difficult to model because of highly irregular precipitation regimes and changes in vegetation cover. The application of quantitative, process-based models at the catchment scale is often problematic because of large data requirements. Qualitative methods require less data and can be more easily performed in a relatively short time, but they are more subjective. The objective of this research is to develop an erosion assessment methodology that combines qualitative field surveys with quantitative model estimates. The qualitative World Overview of Conservation Approaches and Technologies (WOCAT) methodology is based on expert observations per mapping unit, while the Pan-European Soil Erosion Risk Assessment (PESERA) model simulates hill slope soil loss based on land cover, soil texture, meteorological data and slope profile. This study was conducted in the 106·4-km2 Peristerona watershed in Cyprus with a mean local slope higher than 40% in the mountainous upstream area and less than 8% in the plain. Out of 68 units, PESERA and WOCAT results were in agreement in 40 units, while PESERA results were lower in 25 and higher in 3 units. Both methods identified burnt areas and complex cultivation patterns as the most degraded. The total PESERA-based sediment yield for the watershed was 1·2 Mg ha−1 y−1, which fell within the range of the sediment yield measured at the check-dam downstream (0·2–2 Mg ha−1 y−1). This study provides a linkage between qualitative and quantitative soil erosion methods and helps to translate the outcomes of the former into the latter, thus providing a good tool for local erosion assessment.

Published in Land Degradation & Development 11 July (2016)

DOI: 10.1002/ldr.2571
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An applied methodology for stakeholder identification in transdisciplinary research

Julia Leventon, Luuk Fleskens, Heleen Claringbould, Gudrun Schwilch, Rudi Hessel

In this paper we present a novel methodology for identifying stakeholders for the purpose of engaging with them in transdisciplinary, sustainability research projects. In transdisciplinary research, it is important to identify a range of stakeholders prior to the problem-focussed stages of research. Early engagement with diverse stakeholders creates space for them to influence the research process, including problem definition, from the start. However, current stakeholder analysis approaches ignore this initial identification process, or position it within the subsequent content-focussed stages of research. Our methodology was
designed as part of a research project into a range of soil threats in seventeen case study locations throughout Europe.Our methodology was designed to be systematic across all sites. It is based on a snowball sampling approach that can be implemented by researchers with no prior experience of stakeholder research, and without requiring significant financial or time resources. It therefore fosters transdisciplinarity by empowering physical scientists to identify stakeholders and understand their roles. We describe the design process and outcomes, and consider their applicability to other research projects. Our methodology therefore consists of a two-phase process of design and implementation of an identification questionnaire. By explicitly including a design phase into the process, it is possible to tailor our methodology to other research projects.

Pulished in Sustainable Science (2016) 11:763–775  (Open Access)

DOI 10.1007/s11625-016-0385-1

The threat of soil salinity: A European scale review

I.N. Daliakopoulos, I.K. Tsanis, A. Koutroulis, N.N. Kourgialas, A.E. Varouchakis, G.P. Karatzas,
C.J. Ritsema

Soil salinisation is one of the major soil degradation threats occurring in Europe. The effects of salinisation can be observed in numerous vital ecological and non-ecological soil functions. Drivers of salinisation can be detected both in the natural and man-made environment, with climate and the foreseen climate change also playing an important role. This review outlines the state of the art concerning drivers and pressures, key indicators as well as monitoring, modeling and mapping methods for soil salinity. Furthermore, an overview of the effect of salinisation on soil functions and the respective mechanism is presented. Finally, the state of salinisation in Europe is presented according to the most recent literature and a synthesis of consistent datasets. We conclude that future research in the field of soil salinisation should be focused on among others carbon dynamics of saline soil, further exploration of remote sensing of soil properties and the harmonization and enrichment of soil salinity maps across Europe within a general context of a soil threat monitoring system to support policies and strategies for the protection of European soils.

Published in Science of the Total Environment


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Subsoil compaction assessed by visual evaluation and laboratory methods

Obour, Peter Bilson, Per Schjønning, Yi Peng, and Lars J. Munkholm.

Subsoil compaction is one of the major causes of land degradation worldwide and therefore a major threat to future crop productivity. The objective of this contribution was to evaluate the effects of compaction treatments on soil structure based on the numerical visual evaluation of subsoil structure (SubVESS) method and on quantitative measurements of soil pore characteristics. The effect of soil compaction was evaluated using treatments from a compaction experiment initiated in 2010 at Research Centre Flakkebjerg, Denmark, on a sandy loam soil using five levels of compaction. In this study we used i) non-compacted reference, ii) Treatment M3, where soil was subjected to multiple passes (five wheel passes per compaction event annually) of a tractor-trailer combination with max. wheel load of ∼3 Mg, and iii) M8, with multiple passes (four wheel passes per compaction event annually) of a tractor-trailer combination with max. wheel load of ∼8 Mg. The tire inflation pressure was generally above the recommended pressure in order to mimic the inflation pressures commonly used in practice. The treatments were applied track-by-track in the spring of 2010–2013 when the soil water content was close to field capacity. Spring barley (Hordeum vulgare L.) was established every year after a shallow secondary tillage to ∼0.05 m depth to loosen the uppermost layer. Sampling and field evaluation were done on May 7, 2014, i.e. after four years of compaction treatments (2010–2013) and one year of recovery. The soil profiles were evaluated at the same time as soil cores were sampled at 0.3, 0.5 and 0.7 m depth. In the laboratory, we measured water content, total porosity, air-filled porosity (εa), air permeability (ka) and calculated pore organization indices (PO1 = kaa and PO2 = kaa2) on the soil cores. We estimated the blocked air-filled porosity and pore continuity index from the relationship between air permeability and air-filled porosity for −30 to −300 hPa matric potentials. Assessment using the SubVESS method showed a marked effect of the M8 treatment on soil structural quality down to ∼0.65 m depth, but the effects of the M3 were not significantly different from the control at any depth. This was confirmed by the laboratory-measured data, which showed that the M8 treatment drastically reduced total porosity, air-filled porosity, air permeability, pore size distribution, pore tortuosity and continuity, especially at 0.3 and 0.5 m depths.

Detailed measurements of the anisotropy of soil pore characteristics at 0.3–0.4 m depth showed that for PO2 (pore size distribution) and blocked air-filled porosity the control soil was significantly anisotropic. Although compaction with the ∼8 Mg wheel load affected the vertically and horizontally-oriented pores differently, it did not significantly affect the anisotropy of the different pore characteristics. Our results showed that in general, there was a good agreement between the field and laboratory methods and thus, the two can be combined to evaluate the effects of compaction in the subsoil.

Published in Soil and Tillage Research (2016).



Modelling soil salinity in greenhouse cultivations under a changing climate with SALTMED: Model modification and application in Timpaki, Crete /Ioannis N. Daliakopoulos, Polixeni Pappa, Manolis G. Grillakis, Emmanouil A. Varouchakis, and Ioannis K. Tsanis

Soil salinity is a major soil degradation threat especially for arid coastal environments where it hinders agricultural production thus imposing a desertification risk. In the prospect of a changing climate, soil salinity due to brackish water irrigation introduces additional uncertainties regarding the viability of deficit irrigation and intensive cultivation practices such as greenhouse cropping. Here we propose a modification of the SALTMED leaching requirements model to account for greenhouse cultivation conditions. The model is applied in the RECARE Project Case Study of Timpaki, a semi-arid region in south-central Crete (Greece) where greenhouse horticulture is an important land use. Excessive groundwater abstractions towards irrigation have resulted in a drop of the groundwater level in the coastal part of the aquifer, thus leading to seawater intrusion and in turn to soil salinisation. Crop yield and soil profile Electrical Conductivity (EC) sensitivity to initial soil EC (up to 2 dS m-1) and irrigation water EC (up to 3 dS m-1) are modelled for the locally popular horticultural crops of Solanum lycopersicum, Solanum melongena and Capsicum annuum. Climate model data obtained from 9 General Circulation Models (GCMs) for the “worst case” Representative Concentration Pathway of 8.5 W m-2 of the 5th phase of the Coupled Model Intercomparison Project are corrected for bias against historical observations with the Multisegment Statistical Bias Correction method and used to estimate crop yield and soil profile Electrical Conductivity (??) sensitivity in a warmer future. Results show that the effects of climate change on Solanum lycopersicum greenhouse cultivations 28 of Timpaki will be detrimental while Solanum melongena and Capsicum annuum cultivations may show greater resilience.

Published in: Soil Science Volume 181 - Issue 6 - p 241–251

doi: 10.1097/SS.0000000000000161 

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Nano to macro pore structure changes induced by long-term residue management in three different soils /Chiara Pituello, Nicola Dal Ferro, Gianluca Simonetti, Antonio Berti, Francesco Morari

The use of crop residues for bioenergy production has gathered much attention in recent years. For this reason, the potential detrimental effects on soil quality caused by their removal need to be carefully evaluated before this practice becomes widely used.

Data from a long-term field experiment on residue management in three contrasting soils (clay, sandy-loam and sandy) were analysed in order to understand crop residue effects on soil organic carbon stocks. In addition, since soil structure is known to be a sensitive descriptor of soil quality, different techniques were combined to investigate a wide range of pore sizes (from 0.25 nm to 2.5 mm) and pore morphology.

Forty-three years of crop residue incorporation led to a significant increase in the organic carbon content of the three soils. The clay and sandy-loam soils were the most effective in retaining organic carbon as they exhibited the highest absolute increases. The sandy soil showed a residue-induced increase in organic carbon content, indicating that some protection mechanisms may act in the long term even in soils with a scarce ability to protect organic carbon from degradation.

Residues modified the soil structure, inducing an increase in total pore volume as measured by the core method, although their effect was not found in all pore size classes. Residues decreased mesoporosity (30–75 μm), while their effect on macropores (>75 μm) was in terms of shape, increasing the irregular and elongated pores rather than their size frequency. The results thus showed a limited overall effect of residues on soil structure. However, even minor pore network changes could affect other important soil properties such as water movement, solute transport and gas exchanges.

Published in: Agriculture, Ecosystems and Environment, Vol 217, 1 February 2016, Pages 49–58


Contact: francesco.morari@unipd.it

River banks and channels as hotspots of soil pollution after large-scale remediation of a river basin /M.T. Domínguez,J.M. Alegre, P. Madejón, E. Madejón, P. Burgos, F. Cabrera, T. Marañón, J.M. Murillo

Riparian areas are highly dynamic systems where the control of soil pollution might be particularly challenging. Limited accessibility to river banks and bed sediments makes reclamation operations particularly difficult in these topographical positions, in comparison to floodplains. This usually leads to the large-scale spread of pollutants following pollution episodes in riparian areas. Here, we aimed to evaluate the persistence of trace-element pollution in the soils of Guadiamar River Valley (SW Spain), a large-scale remediation after a mine-spill. We monitored topsoil along the river basin, and in different topographical positions across the river section (river channel, river banks and floodplain), 16 years after a pollution episode and subsequent remediation program. River channels and banks were identified as hotspots of soil pollution, where soluble concentrations of As, Cd and Zn were significantly higher than in floodplains. Along the basin, soil pH and carbonate content was highly variable as a result of contrasted geological background, differential loads of sulfide deposition after the accident and irregular effectiveness of the applied amendments. Cadmium and Zn showed the highest levels of long-term re-distribution from the pollution source. The results suggests that the stabilization and remediation of soil pollution in river banks and channels, often overlooked when achieving remediation works, should be a priority for land managers.

Published in: Geoderma Vol 261, 1 January 2016, Pages 133–140


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Evaluation of soil salinity amelioration technologies in Timpaki, Crete: a participatory approach /I. S. Panagea, I. N. Daliakopoulos, I. K. Tsanis, and G. Schwilch

 Soil salinity management can be complex, expensive, and time demanding, especially in arid and semi-arid regions. Besides taking no action, possible management strategies include amelioration and adaptation measures. Here we apply the World Overview of Conservation Approaches and Technologies (WOCAT) framework for the systematic analysis and evaluation and selection of soil salinisation amelioration technologies in close collaboration with stakeholders. The participatory approach is applied in the RECARE (Preventing and Remediating degradation of soils in Europe through Land Care) project case study of Timpaki, a semi-arid region in south-central Crete (Greece) where the main land use is horticulture in greenhouses irrigated by groundwater. Excessive groundwater abstractions have resulted in a drop of the groundwater level in the coastal part of the aquifer, thus leading to seawater intrusion and in turn to soil salinisation. The documented technologies are evaluated for their impacts on ecosystem services, cost, and input requirements using a participatory approach and field evaluations. Results show that technologies which promote maintaining existing crop types while enhancing productivity and decreasing soil salinity are preferred by the stakeholders. The evaluation concludes that rainwater harvesting is the optimal solution for direct soil salinity mitigation, as it addresses a wider range of ecosystem and human well-being benefits. Nevertheless, this merit is offset by poor financial motivation making agronomic measures more attractive to users.

Published in: Solid Earth, 7, 177-190,


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Short-time phosphorus losses by overland flow in burnt pine and eucalypt plantations in north-central Portugal: A study at micro-plot scale Ferreira R.V., Serpa D., Cerqueira M.A., Keizer J.J., 

Over the past decades, wildfires have affected vast areas of Mediterranean ecosystems leading to a variety of negative on- and off-site environmental impacts. Research on fire-affected areas has given more attention to sediment losses by fire-enhanced overland flow than to nutrient exports, especially in the Mediterranean region. To address this knowledge gap for post-fire losses of phosphorus (P) by overland flow, a recently burnt forest area in north-central Portugal was selected and instrumented immediately after a wildfire. Three slopes were selected for their contrasting forest types (eucalypt vs. pine) and parent materials (granite vs. schist). The selected study sites were a eucalypt site on granite (BEG), a eucalypt site on schist (BES) and a maritime pine site on schist (BPS). Micro-plots were monitored over a period of six months, i.e. till the construction of terraces for reforestation obliged to the removal of the plots. During this 6-month period, overland flow samples were collected at 1- to 2-weekly intervals, depending on rainfall. Total P and PO4-P losses differed markedly between the two types of forests on schist, being lower at the pine site than at the eucalypt site, probably due to the presence of a protective layer of pine needle cast. Parent material did not play an important role in PO4-P losses by overland flow but it did in TP losses, with significantly lower values at the eucalypt site on granite than that on schist. These differences in TP losses can be attributed to the coarser texture of granite soils, typically promoting infiltration and decreasing runoff. The present findings provided further insights into the spatial and temporal patterns of post-fire soil nutrient losses in fire-prone forest types during the initial stages of the window-of-disturbance, which can be useful for defining post-fire emergency measures to reduce the risk of soil fertility losses.

Published in: Science of the Total Environment 551–552, 631–639

DOI:  10.1016/j.scitotenv.2016.02.036
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Major and trace elements in soils and ashes of eucalypt and pine forest plantations in Portugal following a wildfire  / Campos I., Abrantes N., Keizer J.J., Vale C., Pereira P.

Wildfires can play an important role in the environmental distribution of major and trace elements, including through their mobilization by fire-induced runoff and associated transport of soil and ash particles. In particular, fire-induced inputs of these elements into the environment are relevant due to their toxicity and environmental persistence. This study aimed to evaluate the role of wildfire and time-since-fire on the redistribution of major and trace elements, which is a topic poorly documented. To this end, levels of V, Mn, Co, Ni, Cu, Cd and Pb were assessed in soil and ash samples collected immediately following a wildfire in north-central Portugal as well as 4 (after the first post-fire rainfall events), 8 and 15months later. The role of forest type was determined by sampling burnt eucalypt and pine plantations. The main findings of this study were the following: (1) levels of V, Mn, Ni, Cd and Pb were consistently higher in the burnt than unburnt soils, while levels of Co and Cu revealed no differences; (2) time-since-fire affected major and trace elements in three different ways: concentrations of Mn and Cd declined abruptly after the first rainfall events while levels of V, Co and Ni increased during the first 8months and levels of Cu and Pb hardly changed during the study period; (3) all studied elements revealed peak concentrations in the ashes immediately after the fire, which then declined sharply four months later; (4) levels of Co and Ni soils and ashes were higher at the pine plantations than at the eucalypt plantations. This study highlighted the role of wildfire in enhancing levels of major and trace elements in ashes and topsoil of forest plantations and their mobilization within the first year after fire, pointing towards recently burnt forest areas as a potential source of environmental contamination.

Published in:Science of the Total Environment 2016 Dec 1;572:1363-1376

DOI: 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2016.01.190
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Combining digital soil mapping and hydrological modeling in a data scarce watershed in north-central Portugal /Tavares Wahren F., Julich S., Nunes J.P., Gonzalez-Pelayo O., Hawtree D., Feger K.-H., Keizer J.J.

Data scarcity represents a serious limitation to the use of hydrologic models for supporting decision making processes, and may lead to inappropriate measures for integrated water resources management efforts. In particular, the importance of spatially distributed soil information is often overlooked. The forest-dominated Águeda catchment in north-central Portugal is an example of a region with serious soil data availability limitations. The Soil Land Inference Model (SoLIM) approach, combined with information from several soil surveys, was used to create a map of soil properties based upon the effective soil depths of the landscape. The modified soil map provided a better representation of the soil spatial attributes, particularly the distribution of soil water content. The Soil Water Assessment Tool (SWAT) was applied to the Águeda catchment with two input data sets differing in the soil data. Although SWAT performed satisfactorily in simulating daily streamflow for both data sets at the outlet, results of our study indicate that the SoLIM derived soil data set provides a better representation of the first peak flow events after the dry period. Additionally, it is shown that the better representation of profile depth can contribute considerably to the understanding of water balance components at the small scale and for the implications for management. This study underlines the importance of spatially distributed soil information in watershed modeling for decision making in the river basin management process

Published in: GEODERMA 264, part B, 350- 362


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 Reviewed articles 2015

Possibilities of estimating the gully erosion changes on the Myjava Basin  /Michaela Danáčová, Radovan Nosko, Roman Výleta, Beata Randusová, Ján Szolgay

cooperative fields have contributed to changes in the current landscape of the Myjava river basin. Due to these changes the Myjava Hill land has  extraordinarily appropriate conditions for the formation of quick runoff processes, intensive soil erosion and related muddy floods. When muddy floods occur water is flowing from agricultural fields and carrying large quantities of soil. Negative effect of muddy floods is an accumulation of eroded material on roads, in river channels or water reservoirs. Intensive erosion activity of concentrated runoff on slopes creates suitable conditions for formation of permanent and preliminary gullies. The paper presents a possibility to estimate development of rill erosion on the example of selected permanent gully in the locality of Turá Lúka. Development of the gully and its changes over time were evaluated on the basis of historical and orto photo maps. An emphasis has been put on the changes in the length, area and the position of the gully in different periods.

Published in: ACTA HYDROLOGICA SLOVACA Ročník 16, Tematické číslo 1, 2015, 167 - 175

Changes in soil microbial activity and physiochemical properties in agricultural soils in Eastern Spain /Alicia Morugán-Coronado, Fuensanta García-Orenes, Artemi Cerdà

Agricultural land management greatly affects soil properties. Microbial soil communities are the most sensitive and rapid indicators of perturbations in land use and soil enzyme activities are sensitive biological indicators of the effects of soil management practices. Citrus orchards frequently have degraded soils and this paper evaluates how land management in citrus orchards can improve soil quality. A field experiment was performed in an orchard of orange trees (Citrus Sinensis) in the Alcoleja Experimental Station (Eastern Spain) with clay-loam agricultural soils to assess the long-term effects of herbicides with inorganic fertilizers (H), intensive ploughing and inorganic fertilizers (P) and organic farming (O) on the soil microbial properties, and to study the relationship between them. Nine soil samples were taken from each agricultural management plot. In all the samples physicochemical parameters, basal soil respiration, soil microbial biomass carbon, microbial indexes (BSR/C, Cmic/C and BSR/Cmic) and enzymatic activities (urease, dehydrogenase, ß-glucosidase and acid phosphatase) were determined. The results showed significant differences between the different agricultural management practices for the microbial properties and soil microbial indexes, since these were strongly associated with the soil organic matter content. Unlike herbicide use and intensive ploughing - management practices that both showed similar microbial soil properties - the organic management practices contributed to an increase in the soil biology quality, aggregate stability and organic matter content.

Published in Spanish Journal of Soil Science Vol 5, No. 3

DOI: 10.3232/SJSS.2015.V5.N3.02

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Facilitating the afforestation of Mediterranean polluted soils by nurse shrubs. /María T. Domínguez, , Ignacio M. Pérez-Ramos, José M. Murillo, Teodoro Marañón

The revegetation of polluted sites and abandoned agricultural soils is critical to reduce soil losses and to control the spread of soil pollution in the Mediterranean region, which is currently exposed to the greatest soil erosion risk in Europe. However, events of massive plant mortality usually occur during the first years after planting, mainly due to the adverse conditions of high irradiance and drought stress. Here, we evaluated the usefulness of considering the positive plant–plant interactions (facilitation effect) in the afforestation of polluted agricultural sites, using pre-existing shrubs as nurse plants. We used nurse shrubs as planting microsites for acorns of Quercus ilex (Holm oak) along a gradient of soil pollution in southwestern Spain, and monitored seedling growth, survival, and chemical composition during three consecutive years. Seedling survival greatly increased (from 20% to more than 50%) when acorns were sown under shrub, in comparison to the open, unprotected matrix. Facilitation of seedling growth by shrubs increased along the gradient of soil pollution, in agreement with the stress gradient hypothesis that predicts higher intensity of the facilitation effects with increasing abiotic stress. Although the accumulation of trace elements in seedling leaves was higher underneath shrub, the shading conditions provided by the shrub canopy allowed seedlings to cope with the toxicity provoked by the concurrence of low pH and high trace element concentrations in the most polluted sites. Our results show that the use of shrubs as nurse plants is a promising tool for the cost-effective afforestation of polluted lands under Mediterranean conditions.

Published in: Journal of Environmental Management Vol Volume 161, 15 September 2015, Pages 276–286


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Within-in flume sediment deposition in a forested catchment following wildfire and post-fire bench terracing, north-central Portugal / J.J. Keizer, M.A.S. Martins, S.A. Prats, S.R. Faria, O. González-Pelayo, A.I. Machado, M.E. Rial-Rivas, L.F. Santos, D. Serpa, M.E.T. Varela

 Wildfires increase plot-scale soil erosion rates across the world. However, very few studies have monitored post-fire erosion losses at the catchment scale, especially in the Mediterranean region. The FIRECNUTS project was originally set out to address this research gap by selecting a recently burnt catchment and instrumenting its outlet with two flumes with maximum discharge capacities of 120 and 1700 l s-1. Six months after the fire, however, this experimental catchment was bench terraced by bulldozer. Furthermore, the smallest flume suffered from regular deposition of sediments from the onset of its construction. This study was therefore an attempt to explore whether quantifying this deposition of sediments could provide further insight into the sediment yield of a recently burnt and terraced catchment. To this end, the deposited sediments were removed and weighted on a total of 101 occasions during a three year period. The results revealed that: (i) the amounts of sediment deposited over the three hydrological years corresponded to relatively small erosion rates, varying between 0.030 and 0.046 Mg ha-1 yr-1; (ii) while bench terracing is generally viewed as a soil and water conservation technique, it did not produce a clear decrease in sediment deposition, as deposition per mm of streamflow was the same before and after terracing (0.8 kg mm-1); (iii) daily sediment deposition could be explained reasonably well by daily rainfall volume and maximum daily streamflow volume.

Published in: Cuadernos de Investigación Geográfica Vol 41, No. 1

doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.18172/cig.2700

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Cation export by overland flow in a recently burnt forest area in north-central Portugal /A.I. Machadoa, D. Serpaa, R.V. Ferreiraa, M.L. Rodríguez-Blancob, R. Pintoa, M.I. Nunesa, M.A. Cerqueiraa, J.J. Keizera

The current fire regime in the Mediterranean Basin constitutes a serious threat to natural ecosystems because it drastically enhances surface runoff and soil erosion in the affected areas. Besides soil particles themselves, soil cations can be lost by fire-enhanced overland flow, increasing the risk of fertility loss of the typically shallow and nutrient poor Mediterranean soils. Although the importance of cations for land-use sustainability is widely recognized, cation losses by post-fire runoff have received little research attention. The present study aimed to address this research gap by assessing total exports of Na+, K+, Ca2 + and Mg2 + in a recently burnt forest area in north-central Portugal. These exports were compared for two types of planted forest (eucalypt vs. maritime pine plantations), two types of parent materials (schist vs. granite) and for two spatial scales (micro-plot vs. hill slope). The study sites were a eucalypt plantation on granite (BEG), a eucalypt plantation on schist (BES) and a maritime pine plantation on schist (BPS). Overland flow samples were collected during the first six months after the wildfire. Cation losses differed strikingly between the two forest types on schist, being higher at the eucalypt than pine site. This difference was evident at both spatial scales, and probably due to the extensive cover of a needle cast from the scorched pine crowns. The role of parent material in cation export was less straightforward as it varied with spatial scale. Cation losses were higher for the eucalypt plantation on schist than for that on granite at the micro-plot scale, whereas the reverse was observed at the hill slope scale. Finally, cation yields were higher at the micro-plot than slope scale, in agreement with the general notion of scaling-effect in runoff generation.

Published in: Science of the Total Environment Volumes 524–525, 15 August 2015, Pages 201–212

doi: 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2015.04.026

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Conversion Between Soil Texture Classification Systems Using the Random Forest Algorithm, Air, Soil and Water Research /Čistý, M., Čelár, Ľ., Minarič, P.

This study focuses on the reclassification of a soil texture system following a hybrid approach in which the conventional particle-size distribution (PSD) models are coupled with a random forest (RF) algorithm for achieving more generally applicable and precise outputs. The existing parametric PSD models that could be used for this purpose have various limitations; different models frequently show unequal degrees of precision in different soils or under different environments. The authors present in this article a novel ensemble modeling approach in which the existing PSD models are used as ensemble members. An improvement in precision was proved by better statistical indicators for the results obtained, and the article documents that the ensemble model worked better than any of its constituents (different existing parametric PSD models). This study is verified by using a soil dataset from Slovakia, which was originally labeled by a national texture classification system, which was then transformed to the USDA soil classification system. However, the methodology proposed could be used more generally, and the information provided is also applicable when dealing with the soil texture classification systems used in other countries.

Published in: Air, Soil and Water Research, Volume 8, Pages 67-75, ISSN 1178-6221,


Evaluating Soil Threats Under Climate Change Scenarios in the Andalusia Region, Southern Spain /María Anaya-Romero,Sameh Kotb Abd-Elmabod, Miriam Muñoz-Rojas, Gianni Castellano, Carlos Juan Ceacero, Susana Alvarez, Miguel Méndez, Diego De la Rosa

European policies can be relevant to protect soils under climate change scenarios and therefore preserve the wide variety of functions and services provided by the soil. The European Thematic Strategy for Soil Protection will require member states to identify areas under risk from various soil threats and establish procedures to achieve sustainability. Five models Terraza, Cervatana, Sierra, Raizal, and Pantanal included in the Mediterranean Land Evaluation Information System decision support system packages were used to identify areas vulnerable to various soil threats under climate change scenarios in the Andalusia region. While Terraza and Cervatana forecast general land use capability for a broad series of possible agricultural uses, the Sierra model predicts forestry land suitability for the presence/absence of 22 typical Mediterranean forest species. Raizal and Pantanal models predict soil erosion vulnerability, contamination, and other processes. Interpretation of results in different scenarios allows quantifying the effects of climate change in terms of agricultural productivity, forestry land suitability, erosion, and contamination risks. The obtained results allow to identify detailed vulnerable areas and formulate site-specific management plans for soil protection. Climate change is expected to impact crop growth with a higher impact on summer crops (corn, sunflower, and cotton). The results show a potential opportunity for reforestation (Quercus spp.) in future climate scenarios, while other species such as Castanea sativa will not be suitable in the study area by 2070 and 2100. Soil contamination and erosion show only slight differences between the current and future scenario of climate change.

Published in: Land Degradation & Development Volume 26, Issue 5 July 2015 Pages 441–449

DOI: 10.1002/ldr.2363



Book contributions


RECARE partner /
RECARE contact 

Partner # Book Chapter Title Book Title

Reference or DOI

RECARE contact

1  Per Schjønning et al

 Aarhus Universitet (AU)

 3 Driver-Pressure-State-Impact-Response (DPSIR) Analysis and Risk Assessment for Soil Compaction - A European Perspective  Advances in Agronomy Vol 133