Changes in soil microbial activity and physicochemical properties in agricultural soils in Eastern Spain


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.


Acosta-Martinez V, Acosta-Mercado D, Somajor-Ramirez D, Cruz-Rodriguez L. 2008 Microbial community and enzymatic activities under different management in semiarid soils, Appl Soil Ecol. 38: 249-260.

Alexakis D. 2011. Diagnosis of stream sediment quality and assessment of toxic element contamination sources in East Attica, Greece. Environ Earth Sci. 63:1369–1383, doi:10.1007/s12665-010-0807-9.

Allison VJ, Condron LM, Peltzer DA, Richardson SJ, Turner BI. 2007. Changes in enzyme activities and soil microbial community composition along carbon and nutrient gradients at the Franz Josef chronosequence, New Zeland. Soil Biol Biochem. 39:1770-1781.

Apezteguía HP, Izaurralde RC, Sereno R. 2009. Simulation study of soil organic matter dynamics as affected by land use and agricultural practices in semiarid Cordoba, Argentina. Soil Till Res. 102 (1):101–108.

Balota EL, Yada IF, Amaral H, Nakatani AS, Dick RP, Coyne MS. 2003. Long-term land use influences soil microbial biomass p and s, phosphatase and arylsulfatase activities, and mineralization in a brazilian oxisol. Land degrad dev. 25:397-406.

Bilalis D, Sidiras N, Economou G, Vakali C. 2003. Effect of different levels of wheat straw soil surface coverage on weed flora in Vicia faba crops. J Agron Crop Sci. 189:223-241.

Blagodatskaya E, Yuyukina T, Blagodatsky S, Kuzyakov Y. Turnover of soil organic matter and of microbial biomass under C3-C4 vegetation change: Consideration of 13C fractionation and preferential substrate utilization. Soil Biol Biochem. 43(1):159-166.

Bonanomi G, D'Ascoli R, Antignani V, Capodilupo M, Cozzolino L, Marzaioli R, Puopolo G, Rutigliano FA, Scelza R, Scotti R. 2011. Assessing soil quality under intensive cultivation and tree orchards in Southern Italy. Appl Soil Ecol. 47:184-194.

Bowles TM, Acosta-Martínez V, Calderón F, Jackson LE. 2014. Soil enzyme activities, microbial communities, and carbon and nitrogen availability in organic agroecosystems across an intensively-managed agricultural landscape. Soil Biol Biochem. 68:252-262.

Bremmer JM, Mulvaney CS. 1982. Nitrogen total, In: Page AL, Miller RH, Keeney DR (Eds.) Methods of Soil Analysis, Part 2, Chemical and Microbiological Properties, ASA, Madison, 595-624.

Brevik EC. 2009. Soil Health and Productivity. In Soils, Plant Growth and Crop Production. W. Verheye (Ed.), Encyclopedia of Life Support Systems (EOLSS), Developed under the Auspices of the UNESCO, EOLSS Publishers, Oxford, UK.

Brevik EC, Fenton TE. 2012. Long-term Effects of Compaction on Soil Properties Along the Mormon Trail, South-Central Iowa, USA, Soil Horizons. 53(5):37-42. doi:10.2136/sh12-03-0011.

Brussaard L, de Ruiter PC, Brown GG. 2007. Soil biodiversity for agricultural sustainability. Agriculture Ecosys Environ. 121: 233-244.

Burger M, Jackson LE. 2003. Microbial immobilization of ammonium and nitrate in relation to ammonification and nitrification rates in organic and conventional cropping systems. Soil Biol Biochem. 35:29-36.

Caravaca F, Masciandaro G, Ceccanti B. 2002. Land use in relation to soil chemical and biochemical properties in a semiarid Mediterranean environment. Soil Till Res. 68:23-30.

Cerdà A, Hooke J, Romero-Diaz A, Montanarella L, Lavee H. 2010. Soil erosion on Mediterranean Type Ecosystems. Land Degrad Dev. 21:71–217. DOI 10.1002/ldr.968.

Chaerun SK, Pangesti NP, Toyota K, Whitman WB. 2011. Changes in microbial functional diversity and activity in paddy soils irrigated with industrial wastewaters in Bandung West Java Province, Indonesia. Water Air Soil Poll. 217(1-4):491-502.

Christensen BT. 1996. Matching measurable soil organic matter fractions with conceptual pools in simulation models of carbon turnover: revision of model structure. In: Evaluation of Soil Organic Matter Models Using Existing Long-Term Datasets. Global Environmental Change (eds DS

Powlson, P Smith & JU Smith). Springer Berlin. pp 143-160.

Clark MS, Horwath WR, Shennan C, Scow KM. 1998. Changes in Soil Chemical Properties Resulting from Organic and Low-Input Farming Practices. Agron J. 90:662–671.

De Grood SH, Classens VP, Scow KM. 2005. Microbial community composition on native and drastically disturbed serpentine soils. Soil Biol Biochem. 37:1427–1435.

de Oliveira SM, de Lacerda NB, Blum SCh, Escobar MEO, de Oliveira TS. 2014. Organic carbon and nitrogen stocks in soil of northeastern Brazil converted to irrigation agriculture. Land Degrad. Dev. DOI: 10.1002/ldr.2264.

Díez JA. 1982. Consideraciones sobre la utilización de la técnica extractiva de Burriel–Hernando para la evaluación de fósforo asimilable en suelos. An. Edafol Agrobiol. 41:1345-1353.

Fierer N, Strickland MS, Liptzin D, Bradford MA, Cleveland CC. 2009. Global patterns in belowground communities. Ecol. Lett. 12:1238-1249.

Forster JC. 1995. Soil physical analysis. In: Alef K, Nannipieri P (Eds.) Methods in Applied Soil Microbiol. Biochem. Academic Press Inc., San Diego, CA.

García C, Hernández MT, Costa F. 1997. Potential use of dehydrogenase activity as an index of microbial activity in degraded soils. Commun. Soil Sci. Plant Nutr. 28:123-134.

García-Orenes F, Guerrero C, Mataix-Solera J, Navarro-Pedreño J, Gómez I, Mataix-Beneyto J. 2005. Factors controlling the aggregate stability and bulk density in two different degraded soils amended with biosolids. Soil Till. Res. 82:65-76.

García-Orenes F, Guerrero C, Roldán A, Mataix-Solera J, Cerdá A, Campoy M, Zornoza R, Barcenas G, Caravaca F. 2010. Soil microbial biomass and activity under different agricultural management systems in a semiarid Mediterranean agroecosystem. Soil Till. Res. 109 (2): 110-115.

García-Orenes F, Morugán-Coronado A, Zornoza R, Scow K. 2013. Changes in Soil Microbial Community Structure Influenced by Agricultural Management Practices in a Mediterranean Agro-Ecosystem. PLoS ONE 8:e80522.

García-Ruiz R, Ochoa V, Hinojosa B, Carreira, JA. 2008. Sustainability of enzyme activities of the monitoring of soil quality improvement in organic agricultural systems. Soil Biol. Biochem. 40:2137-2135.

Gispert M, Emran M, Pardini G, Doni S, Ceccanti B. 2013. The impact of land management and abandonment on soil enzymatic activity, glomalin and aggregate stability. Geoderma. 202-203: 51-61.

Imfeld G, Vuilleumier S. 2012. Measuring the effects of pesticides on bacterial communities in soil: a critical review. Eur. J Soil Biol. 49:22-30.

Jenkinson DS, Powlson DS. 1976. The effects of biocidal treatments on metabolism in soil-I. Fumigation with chloroform. Soil Biol. Biochem. 8:209-213.

Jordan CF. 2004. Organic farming and agroforestry: Alleycropping for mulch production for organic farms of southeastern United States. Agroforestry Systems. 61-62: 79-90.

Kalender E, Kampichler C, Horak O. 1996. Influence of heavy metals on the functional diversity of soil microbial communities. Biol Fertil. Soils. 23:299-306.

Kallenbach C, Grandy AS. 2011. Controls over soil microbial biomass responses to carbon amendments in agricultural systems: a meta-analysis. Agric. Ecosyst. Environ. 144: 241-252.

Knudsen D, Peterson GA, Pratt PF. 1982. Lithium, sodium and potassium, A.S.A. – S.S.S.A, Methods of soil analysis, Madison, WI. 2:225-246.

Kok H, Papendick RI, Saxton KE. 2009. STEEP: impact of long-term conservation farming research and education in Pacific northwest wheatlands, J. Soil Water Cons. 64 (4): 253–264.

Lampkin NH, Measures M, Padel S. 2011. Organic Farm Management Handbook, ninth ed. Organic Research Centre, Newbury.

Larsen E, Grossman J, Edgell J, Hoyt G, Osmond D, Hu S. 2014. Soil Biological properties, soil losses and corn yield in long-term organic and conventional farming systems. Soil Till. Res. 139:37-45.

Lindsay WL, Norvell WA. 1978. Development of a DTPA soil test for zinc, iron, manganese, and copper. Soil Sci. Soc. Am. J. 42:421-428.

Macci C, Doni S, Peruzzi E, Mennone C, Masciandaro G. 2013. Biostimulation of soil microbial activity through organic fertilizer and almond tree association. Land Degrad. Dev. DOI: 10.1002/ldr.2234.

Mäder P, Fliebach A, Dubois D, Gunst L, Fried P, Niggli U. 2002. Soil fertility and biodiversity in organic farming, Science. 296:1694-1697.

Marriott EE, Wander M. 2006. Qualitative and quantitative differences in particulate organic matter fractions in organic and conventional farming systems. Soil Biol. Biochem. 38:1527-1536.

Mataix-Solera J, García-Irles L, Morugán A, Doerr SH, García-Orenes F, Arcenegui V, Atanassova I. 2011. Soil water repellency patterns of a former wastewater disposal field with calcareous soil and effects of remediation approaches. Geoderma. 165:78-83.

Morugán-Coronado A, Arcenegui V, García-Orenes F, Mataix-Solera J, Mataix-Beneyto J. 2013. Application of soil quality indices to assess the status of agricultural soils irrigated with treated wastewaters. Solid earth. 4:119 -127.

Morugán-Coronado A, García-Orenes F, Mataix-Solera J, Arcenegui V, Mataix-Beneyto J. 2011. Short-term effects of treated wastewater irrigation on Mediterranean calcareous soil, Soil Till. Res. 112(1):18-26.

Oehl F, Frossard E, Fliessbach A, Dubois D, Oberson A. 2004. Basal organic phosphorus mineralization in soils under different farming systems. Soil Biol. Biochem. 36-667-675.

Oo AN, Iwai CB, Saenjan P. 2014. Soil properties and maize growth in saline and non saline soils using cassava-industrial waste compost with or without earthworms. Land Degrad. Dev. DOI: 10.1002/ldr.2208.

Pampulha ME, Oliveira A. 2006. Impact of an herbicide combination of bromoxynil and prosulfuron on soil microorganisms. Curr. Microbiol. 53:238-243.

Piotrowska A, Wilczewski E. 2012. Effects of catch crops cultivated for Green manure and mineral nitrogen fertilization on soil enzyme activities and chemical properties. Geoderma. 189-190:72-80.

Porta J, López-Acevedo M, Rodriguez R. 1986. Técnicas y experimentos en edafología, Col•legi oficial d’enginyers agrònoms de Catalunya, Barcelona, Spain.

Prado AG, Evangelista SM, SouzaDe JR, Matos JG, Souza MA, Oliveira DA, Airoldi C. 2011. Effect of the irrigation with residual wastewaters on microbial soil activity of the ornamental flowers (Dahlia pinnata) cultures monitored by isothermal calorimetry. J. Therm. Anal. Calorim. 106(2):431-436.

Pulleman M, Jongmans A, Marinissen J, Bouma J. 2003. Effects of organic versus conventional arable farming on soil structure and organic matter dynamics in a marine loam in the Netherlands. Soil Use Manag. 19:157-165.

Reganold JP, Andrews PK, Reeve JR, Carpenter-Boogs L, Schadt CW, Alldredge R, Ross CF, Davies NM, Zhou J. 2010. Fruit and soil quality of organic and conventional strawberry agroecosystem. PlosONE,5(9),e12346.

Roig A, Romero M, Lax A, Fernández FG. 1980. Estudio comparativo de métodos de determinación de capacidad de cambio catiónica en suelos calizos. An. Edafol. Agrobiol. 39:2021-2032.

Roldán A, García-Orenes F, Lax A. 1994. An incubation experiment to determinate factors involving aggregation changes in an arid soil receiving urban refuse. Soil Biol. Biochem. 26:1699-1707.

Roldán A, Caravaca F, Hernández MT, García-Izquierdo C, Sánchez-Brito C, Velásquez M, Tiscareño M. 2003. No-tillage, crop residue additions, and legume cover cropping effects on soil quality characteristics under maize in Patzcuaro watershed (Mexico). Soil Till. Res. 72: 65-E.

Smukler SM, Jackson LE, Murphree L, Yokota R, Koike ST, Smith RF. 2008. Transition to large-scale organic vegetable production in the Salinas Valley, California. Agric. Ecosyst. Environ, 126:168-188.

Sofo A, Scopa A, Dumontet S, Mazzatura A, Pasquale V. 2012. Toxic effects of four sulphonylureas herbicides on soil microbial biomass. J. Environ. Sci. Health. 47(7):653-659.

Soil Survey Staff, 2010. Keys to soil taxonomy, 11th edn. USDANRCS, Washington DC, USA pp 106-111.

Sorensen PO, Germino MJ, Feris KP. 2013. Microbial community responses to 17 years of altered precipitation are seasonally dependent and coupled to co-varying effects of water content on vegetation and soil C. Soil Biol. Biochem. 64:155-163.

Tabatabai MA. 1994. Enzymes, In: Weaver RW, Angle JS, Bottomley PS. (eds). Methods of Soil Analysis, Part 2. Soil Sci. Soc. Am. J. Madison. pp 755-833.

Tisdall JM, Oades JM. 1982. Organic matter and water-stable aggregates in soils. Soil Sci. Soc. Am. J. 33(2):141-163.

Tu C, Ristaino JB, Hu S. 2006. Soil microbial biomass and activity in organic tomato farming systems: Effects of organic inputs and straw mulching. Soil Biol. Biochem. 38:247-255.

Vance ED, Brookes PC, Jenkinson DS. 1987. An extraction method for measuring soil microbial biomass C. Soil Biol. Biochem. 19:703-707.

Walkley A, Black IA. 1934. An examination of the Degtjareff method for determining soil organic matter and a proposed modification of the chromic acid titration method. Soil Sci. 37:29-38.

Williams ND, Petticrew EL. 2009. Aggregate stability in organically and conventionally farmed soils, Soil Use Manag. 25(3):284-292.

Zak DR, Holmes WE, White DC, Peacock AD, Tilman D. 2003. Plant diversity, soil microbial communities, and ecosystem function: are there any links?. Ecology. 84:2042-2050.

Zelles L. 1999. Fatty acid patterns of phospholipids and lipopolysaccharides in the characterization of microbial communities in soil: a review. Biol. Fertil. Soils. 29:111-129.

Zornoza R, Mataix-Solera J, Guerrero C, Arcenegui V, Mayoral AM. 2007. Soil properties under natural forest in the Alicante Province of Spain. Geoderma. 142:334-341.

Zornoza R, Guerrero C, Mataix-Solera J, Scow KM, Arcenegui V, Mataix-Beneyto J. 2009. Changes in soil microbial community structure following the abandonment of agricultural terraces in mountainous areas of Eastern Spain. Appl. Soil Ecol. 42:315-323.