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Keywords:

  • Agroforestry systems;
  • N mineralization;
  • Mediterranean climate;
  • labile soil organic matter;
  • soil respiration;
  • N-fixers

Abstract

Long-term effects of improved pasture establishment (with high proportion of legumes) on soil organic-C status and N availability in Mediterranean cork oak (Quercus suber L.) woodlands were assessed. Soils were sampled beneath scattered crowns and in open areas, considering two systems: unmanaged and managed woodlands where improved pastures were installed 26 and 32 years ago. Total and labile C and N pools were measured and C and N mineralization were determined over 24 weeks laboratory incubation. Soils under improved pastures showed higher organic-C, total-N and net N mineralization than those under unmanaged pasture, mainly when established beneath trees. Potentially mineralizable C, C mineralization rate and microbial C were not statistically different between the unmanaged and improved pasture sites, but were higher closer to the tree than in the open area (1.8, 1.2 and 1.2 times, respectively). The qCO2 was higher in improved pastures (1.7 times). Labile pool of C and N extracted with hot water increased under improved pasture (3.4 and 1.7 times, respectively). Results indicate that soil quality amelioration by improved pastures is stronger in the presence of oak trees. Management systems that favour oak tree maintenance and regeneration should be taken into account to reverse soil degradation.