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Agriculture, Ecosystems and Environment

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Improvement of soil aggregate stability by repeated applications of organic

amendments to a cultivated silty loam soil
M. Annabi a,b,1 , Y. Le Bissonnais c , M. Le Villio-Poitrenaud b , S. Houot a,∗
INRA, UMR 1091 Environment and Arable Crops, 78850 Thiverval-Grignon, France
Veolia Environment–Research and Development, - 78520 Limay, France
INRA, UMR Laboratoire d Etude des Interactions Sol-Agrosystème-Hydrosystème, SupAgro-INRA-IRD, 34060 Montpellier, France

a r t i c l e i n f o a b s t r a c t

Article history: The objective of this study was to compare the effects of repeated field applications of three urban
Received 1 September 2009 compost amendments and one farmyard manure amendment over a 9-year period on aggregate sta-
Received in revised form 14 June 2011 bility in a silty loam soil initially characterized by low clay and initial organic matter contents and
Accepted 7 July 2011
poor aggregate stability. Three different aggregate stability tests with increasing disruptive intensities
Available online xxx
(fast wetting > mechanical breakdown > slow wetting tests) and different disaggregation mechanisms,
were used. All of the amendments, which were applied at approximately 4 Mg C ha−1 every other year,
increased the organic carbon content and improved the stability of the aggregates against the disruptive
action of water, as determined by each of the stability tests. However, the year-to-year variations in the
Long-term field experiment aggregate stability that related to factors other than the organic inputs were greater than the cumula-
Aggregate stability tive increase in aggregate stability relative to the control. The positive effects of the tested amendments
Carbon content on aggregate stability were linked to their contribution to soil organic C contents (r = 0.54 for the fast
Cohesion wetting test and r = 0.41–0.42 for the mechanical breakdown and slow wetting tests; p < 0.05). The addi-
tion of urban composts had a larger positive effect on aggregate stability than farmyard manure at the
majority of sampling dates. The addition of biodegradable immature compost, such as municipal solid
waste (MSW), improved the aggregate stability through an enhanced resistance to slaking. The addition
of mature composts, such as the co-compost of sewage sludge and green wastes (GWS) or biowaste com-
post (BW), improved the aggregate stability by increasing interparticular cohesion. The MSW compost
was the most efficient in improving aggregate stability during the first 6 years of the experiment (average
improvements of +22%, +5% and +28% in the fast wetting, mechanical breakdown and slow wetting tests,
respectively, compared to the control treatment); this result was likely due to the larger labile organic
pool of the MSW compost that was highly effective at stimulating soil microbial activity. After the first
6 years, the two other composts, GWS and BW, became more efficient (average improvements of +25%,
+61% and +33% in the fast wetting, mechanical breakdown and slow wetting tests, respectively, compared
to the control treatment), which was probably linked to the greater increase in soil organic C contents.
Therefore, the application of urban compost to silty soil that is susceptible to water erosion was effective
at improving aggregate stability and thus could be used to enhance the resistance of soil to water erosion.

© 2011 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.

1. Introduction erosion and has been linked to the low stability of aggregates
(Le Bissonnais et al., 1998; Bresson et al., 2006). In these soils,
Water erosion affects more than 5 million hectares of arable organic matter is the principal agent that contributes to aggregate
soils in France including areas with a moderate or uneven relief (Le stability (Tessier et al., 1998), and significant correlations between
Bissonnais et al., 2002). In silty soils, which are widely represented aggregate stability and soil organic matter content have been
in northern Europe, crust formation increases the risk of sheet established (Loveland and Webb, 2003). Various organic fractions
participate in aggregate stabilization including microbial biomass
(particularly fungi), microbial-derived polysaccharides, particulate
∗ Corresponding author. Tel.: +33 130815401; fax: +33 130815396. organic matter, humic substances and lipids (Baldock, 2002;
E-mail addresses: (M. Annabi), Bronick and Lal, 2005; Abiven et al., 2009).
(Y. Le Bissonnais), (M. Le Villio-Poitrenaud),
Intensive cultivation can lead to a decline in soil organic matter (S. Houot).
Present address: INRAT, Laboratory of Soil, Plant and Water Analysis, rue Hedi content (Hanegraaf et al., 2009), resulting in a decrease in aggregate
Karray - 2049 Ariana, Tunisia. stability and a related increase in the soil erosion risk (Le Bissonnais

0167-8809/$ – see front matter © 2011 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.

Please cite this article in press as: Annabi, M., et al., Improvement of soil aggregate stability by repeated applications of organic amendments to
a cultivated silty loam soil. Agric. Ecosyst. Environ. (2011), doi:10.1016/j.agee.2011.07.005
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and Arrouays, 1997; Gajic et al., 2006). Composts resulting from the composts on soil quality and fertility (Houot et al., 2002). The exper-
biological treatment of organic municipal wastes represent valu- imental site is located at Feucherolles, 35 km west of Paris, France
able sources of exogenous organic matter that could be applied to (48◦ 53 47 N, 1◦ 58 21 E). The mean annual rainfall and tempera-
soils to increase their organic matter contents (Lashermes et al., ture are 570 mm and 11 ◦ C, respectively. The soil is a glossic luvisol
2009) and restore their physical properties, including soil aggre- (WRB-FAO classification) that is representative of many northern
gate stability (Aggelides and Londra, 2000), especially in areas French soils used for cereal cropping. The soil had a silty loam tex-
where traditional sources of exogenous organic matters as manures ture in the plowed layer with the following characteristics at the
are scarce. Indeed, the application of exogenous organic matter beginning of the experiment: 150 g kg−1 clay, 783 g kg−1 silt, and
has been shown to improve soil aggregate stability and protect 67 g kg−1 sand (using the Robinson pipette method for soil disper-
against the disruptive action of water in both laboratory and field sion and the destruction of organic matter by H2 O2 ); a pH of 6.9 (in
experiments. A broad variability of improvements in aggregate water); and an average initial organic carbon content of 11 g C kg−1
stability have been observed that corresponds to the soil type (elemental microanalysis after combustion on a CHN analyzer).
and the quality of the amendments applied (Darwish et al., 1995; The experimental field site has been cropped with a wheat-maize
Aggelides and Londra, 2000; Annabi et al., 2007; Abiven et al., 2008; succession since the beginning of the experiment. Wheat crop
Ojeda et al., 2008). Few mid- to long-term experiments have been residues have been exported, whereas the maize residues have
performed to monitor changes in aggregate stability with differ- been returned to the soil.
ent organic inputs, which have mainly included animal manures Four different organic amendments are applied: (1) a munic-
(N’Dayegamiye and Angers, 1990; Darwish et al., 1995; Gerzabek ipal solid waste compost (MSW) made from residual municipal
et al., 1995; Aoyama et al., 1999; Albiach et al., 2001; Whalen wastes after the selective collection of dry and clean packaging; (2)
and Chang, 2002) and peat or wood residues (N’Dayegamiye and a biowaste compost (BW) made from the selectively collected fer-
Angers, 1993; Diaz et al., 1994). Only two previous studies have mentable fractions of municipal wastes co-composted with green
addressed the use of urban compost and sewage sludge (Albiach wastes; (3) a compost resulting from the co-composting of sewage
et al., 2001; Ojeda et al., 2008). In most cases, positive effects were sludge, green wastes and wood chips (GWS); and (4) a farmyard
found without a clear differentiation between the mechanisms manure (FYM) obtained from dairy farm. Detailed information on
involved in aggregate stabilization. Most often, improvements in the composting processes has been previously presented (Annabi
aggregate stability were linked to an increase in the soil organic et al., 2007). These four organic treatments are compared to a con-
matter content (Darwish et al., 1995; Gerzabek et al., 1995; Aoyama trol treatment that does not receive organic input. Each treatment
et al., 1999; Albiach et al., 2001). Soil microbial activity and that of is replicated four times, and the experimental plots arranged in a
fungi in particular, has also been demonstrated to be involved in randomized complete block design. Each 10 m × 45 m plot is sepa-
aggregate stabilization (N’Dayegamiye and Angers, 1990). A recent rated by 6-m-wide cultivated bands and the blocks by 25-m-wide
review by Abiven et al. (2009) highlighted the lack of a clear and cultivated bands.
universal relationship between the improvement of soil aggregate Since 1998, the organic amendments have been spread in early
stability following organic inputs, the induced aggregative factors September on wheat stubble at a two-year frequency (1998, 2000,
and the mechanisms that are involved. The biochemical charac- 2002, 2004, 2006). The intended applied dose was equivalent to
teristics and related biodegradability of the organic inputs partly 4 Mg C ha−1 , corresponding to 1.5 to 2-times the doses that are typ-
explain the observed differences in aggregate stabilization after ically applied by farmers. After five applications, a total of 22.6,
organic amendment additions and also enable the prediction of 19.4, 18.5 and 22.8 Mg C ha−1 of GWS, MSW, BW and FYM had been
aggregate stability evolution after the addition of a specific amend- applied, respectively.
ment (Annabi et al., 2007; Abiven et al., 2008). The organic amendments were disk-plowed into the soil (10 cm
The wet sieving method (Kemper and Chepil, 1965; Kemper and deep) within two days after their application. The soil was then
Rosenau, 1986) has been used in most studies to assess water- plowed in November to a depth of 29 cm using a four-furrow mold-
stable aggregates. This method mainly highlights the resistance of board plow. The soil was left bare until early April when the maize
an aggregate to slaking due to the compression of air entrapped seedbed was prepared to a depth of 10–15 cm using a tined cultiva-
inside the aggregates during wetting. The “Le Bissonnais” method tor. Maize was sown in late April to early May and harvested at the
(Le Bissonnais, 1996) combines three disruptive tests that are end of November. The soil was then plowed again (29 cm deep); the
characterized by different wetting conditions and energies that wheat seedbed was prepared (10–15 cm deep) and wheat was sown
differentiate three disaggregation mechanisms: slaking, mechan- in early November. A low level of mineral nitrogen (60 kg N ha−1 )
ical breakdown by raindrop impact and disaggregation induced was applied to the wheat as a starter, but no mineral nitrogen was
by differential swelling. Using this method, Ojeda et al. (2008) added to the maize crops.
showed that the addition of sewage sludges with differing prop-
erties reduced soil disaggregation through different mechanisms. 2.2. Characterization of the amendments
There were three main goals of this study: (i) to quantify the
effects of repeated applications of three urban composts and one All amendments were sampled during their application, and
farmyard manure amendment on aggregate stability in a silty loam analyses were performed on dried and ground (<1 mm) samples.
soil during a 9-year field experiment; (ii) compare the mechanisms Total organic carbon (TOC) and total nitrogen (Ntot ) contents were
involved in the improvement of aggregate stability by using the determined after further grinding to <0.2 mm followed by combus-
three tests of the “Le Bissonnais” method to measure aggregate sta- tion on a CHN analyzer (Carlo Erba NA 1500, Italy). The pH of the
bility; and (iii) link the observed effects to the evolution of organic compost samples was measured in water (1/5, v/v).
carbon contents in the amended soils. Total organic matter contents were measured as the mass loss
on ignition at 480 ◦ C. The proportions of soluble organic matter
2. Materials and methods (SOLU) and hemicellulose-like (HEMI), cellulose-like (CELL), and
lignin-like (LIGN) fractions were determined by crude-fiber anal-
2.1. Experimental site ysis (Van Soest and Wine, 1967) as described in the French XPU
44 162 standard (AFNOR, 2009).
The QualiAgro long-term experiment has been initiated in 1998 The kinetics of organic matter mineralization of the applied
to assess the environmental impacts and positive effects of urban amendments were monitored during 91-day laboratory

Please cite this article in press as: Annabi, M., et al., Improvement of soil aggregate stability by repeated applications of organic amendments to
a cultivated silty loam soil. Agric. Ecosyst. Environ. (2011), doi:10.1016/j.agee.2011.07.005
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incubations of soil-amendment mixtures to determine their 250 mL of deionized water and agitated using a rapid end-over-end
biodegradability. The incubated mixtures were prepared using movement. Three replicates were performed for each test.
4-mm sieved soils (masses equivalent to 25 g of dry soil) sampled After each test, the fragmented samples were collected and
from the plowed horizon of the control plots and the equivalent of transferred into a 50-␮m sieve that was previously immersed in
50 mg of organic C for each amendment. All organic samples used in ethanol; the sieve was then gently moved five times with a Hénin
the incubations were dried and 1 mm-ground. The water contents apparatus to generate a helicoidal movement. The aggregates that
of the mixtures were adjusted to match the soil water-holding remained on the sieve were collected, dried at 105 ◦ C and gently
capacity (225 g kg−1 soil). The mixtures were then incubated in dry-sieved using a column of six sieves: 2000, 1000, 500, 200, 100
triplicate in hermetically sealed 500-mL glass jars at 28 ◦ C in the and 50 ␮m. The mass proportion of each size fraction of the sta-
dark under aerobic conditions. Untreated soil was also incubated ble aggregates was calculated. The results were expressed as the
as a control. In each glass jar, C that was mineralized to CO2 was mean weight diameter (MWD) corresponding to the sum of the
trapped in 10 mL of 1 M NaOH, which was replaced after 1, 3, 7, 14, mass fraction remaining on each sieve multiplied by the mean of
21, 28, 49, 70 and 91 days of incubation. The CO2 trapped in NaOH the inter-sieve sizes. The MWDs were calculated for each treatment
was analyzed using a colorimetric method at 550 nm on a continu- (MWDFW , MWDMB and MWDSW for fast wetting, mechanical break-
ous flow analyzer (Skalar, The Netherlands). The kinetics of organic down and slow wetting, respectively). The calculated MWD values
C mineralization of each amendment was calculated by subtracting ranged from 25 ␮m to 3500 ␮m, and it was found that higher MWD
the amount of C–CO2 mineralized in the control incubation from values corresponded to a higher stability of the aggregates.
the amount of C–CO2 mineralized in the amended soil. To better determine the effect of organic inputs and prevent any
interferences from other factors that may influence aggregate sta-
bility (e.g., climatic conditions), all MWDs for a given year were also
2.3. Soil sampling
expressed relative to the MWD measured for the control treatment
of the same year (i.e., by calculating the ratio between the MWD
The surface layer (0–10 cm) of the soil was sampled in April
measured in an organic treatment and the control).
of 1999, 2000, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005 and 2007 in the seedbed
when soil was drained. In 1999, 2000 and 2002, only one plot per
treatment was sampled in triplicate. The four plots of each treat- 2.5. Organic carbon contents of the aggregates
ment were sampled in 2003 and 2005, although only three were
sampled in 2004 and 2007. In 1999, 2003, 2005 and 2007, the sam- The total organic carbon content (TOCag ) was determined in the
pling coincided with the implementation of the maize seedbed. For aggregates prepared for the stability measurements using elemen-
these four samplings, the most recent amendment application in tary analysis of ground samples (<0.2 mm) after combustion using
September of the previous year had been buried by plowing and a CHN analyzer (Carlo Erba NA 1500, Italy). The analyses were per-
exerted little influence on aggregate stability in the upper centime- formed on one pooled aggregate sample for each of the sampled
ters of the sampled soil layer. In 2000, 2002 and 2004, samples were plots.
collected between the wheat rows at the end of the wheat stem
extension stage. Plowing and seedbed preparation prior to wheat 2.6. Statistics
sowing homogenized in the plowed horizon the remaining of the
1 st, 2nd and 3rd organic additions, respectively. We considered An analysis of variance (ANOVA and LSD tests for p < 0.05) and a
that the measurements made in 1999 corresponded to the initial pairwise comparison of means were performed for each sampling
aggregate stability because the amendments spread in September date to identify the treatments with similar means. This procedure
1998 were mainly localized beneath the sampled layer. In sum- was performed on absolute values for all of the monitored parame-
mary, the measurements performed in 2000, 2002, 2003, 2004, ters and also on the relative values when compared to control. The
2005 and in 2007 represented the cumulated effects of one (2000), standard error of the relative values, s, was calculated using Eq. (1):
two (2002), three (2003 and 2004) and four (2005 and 2007) organic    
2 2 a
applications. s= (Sa /a) + (Sc /c) ∗ (1)
The wet clods were gently crumbled by hand along their natu-
ral failures immediately after sampling and sieved to recover the where ‘a’ and ‘sa ’ are the measured value and its standard error
3–5 mm aggregates (Le Bissonnais, 1996), which were then air- in the amended treatment, respectively, and ‘c’ and ‘sc ’ are the
dried and used to measure the aggregate stability and organic measured value and its standard error in the control treatment,
carbon contents. respectively.
Pearson’s correlations were also calculated to assess the rela-
2.4. Aggregate stability measurements tionships between aggregate stability, TOCag and the average
carbon mineralization of the amendments. All statistical analyses
Aggregate stability was determined according to the method were performed using Statistix 7.0 (Analytical Software).
described by Le Bissonnais (1996). This method combines three
disruptive tests that correspond to various wetting conditions and 3. Results
energies: fast wetting, slow wetting and mechanical breakdown
by shaking after pre-wetting. The aggregate samples were dried 3.1. Characteristics of the amendments
at 40 ◦ C for 24 h immediately prior to the tests to standardize the
aggregate moisture contents and thus prevent any differences due Average values for the chemical and biochemical characteris-
to the initial moisture levels. tics of the amendments that were applied in the field experiment
For the fast wetting test, approximately 5 g of calibrated aggre- are presented in Table 1. The total organic carbon contents ranged
gates was rapidly immersed in 50 mL of deionized water for 10 min. from 158 to 385 g C kg−1 of dry matter and increased in the follow-
For the slow wetting test, similar amounts of aggregates were pre- ing order: BW < GWS < MSW < FYM. The carbon to nitrogen ratios
pared using capillary-induced rewetting with water on a tension ranged from 12.0 to 17.7 and increased in the following order:
table at a potential of −0.3 kPa for 30 min. For the mechanical break- GWS < BW < FYM < MSW. The GWS and BW composts contained the
down test, aggregates were wetted in ethanol and then immersed in largest lignin-like fractions because of the high proportion of green

Please cite this article in press as: Annabi, M., et al., Improvement of soil aggregate stability by repeated applications of organic amendments to
a cultivated silty loam soil. Agric. Ecosyst. Environ. (2011), doi:10.1016/j.agee.2011.07.005
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Table 1
Chemical characteristics of the composts and farmyard manure applied in the field experiment since 1998 (average and standard deviation of 1998, 2000, 2002, 2004 and
2006 analysis). Dry matter (DM) is expressed on fresh matter (FM) basis. Total organic carbon (TOC), organic matter (OM), total nitrogen (Ntot ) are expressed on DM basis;
the biochemical fractions of organic matter as soluble (SOLU), Hemicelluloses-like (HEMI), Cellulose-like (CELL) and lignin-like (LIG) are expressed on organic matter (OM)

DM (g kg−1 FM) TOC (g kg−1 DM) OM (g kg−1 DM) Ntot (g kg−1 DM) C/N pHwater SOLU (%OM) HEMI (%OM) CELL (%OM) LIG (%OM)

GWS 587 271 472 22.8 12.0 7.7 43.5 5.4 21.2 29.9
61† 57 61 3.8 2.7 0.8 8.6 2.3 11.2 12.7
MSW 715 308 557 17.8 17.7 7.4 44.8 6.4 33.1 15.6
100 51 119 2.6 4.7 0.4 7.5 2.5 8.8 2.4
BW 667 174 327 14.0 12.8 8.5 43.6 4.7 19.7 32.0
70 14 51 1.6 1.8 0.2 8.4 2.8 2.1 9.7
FYM 352 333 585 23.2 14.8 9.0 38.2 11.8 26.1 23.9
64 51 96 2.9 3.7 0.2 5.6 2.9 8.0 2.2

Standard error.

waste in the initial waste mixtures. The MSW composts had the
smallest lignin-like and largest cellulose-like fractions because of
the high proportion of paper and cardboard in the initial waste
mixture (approximately 25%).
The MSW composts displayed the highest degree of biodegrad-
ability with an average of 42% of TOC mineralized after 91 days of
incubation in the soil (Fig. 1). The GWS and BW composts were the
most recalcitrant with only 11% and 13% TOC mineralization after
91 days of incubation.

3.2. Aggregate stability

3.2.1. Fast wetting test

In 1999, the MWDFW values ranged from 0.22 to 0.26 mm for
all treatments corresponding to initial heterogeneity in aggregate
stability (Fig. 2a). In 2000, only the MSW and BW showed signifi-
cantly higher MWDFW values (Fig. 2a, Table 2), which reached +37%
and +45%, respectively, relative to the control. In 2002, no signif-
icant effects of the amendments were seen. After 2003, all of the
organic treatments resulted in increases in aggregate resistance to
the strong disaggregating energy in the fast wetting test when com-
pared to the control; these changes were significant only in the BW
(+21% compared to the control) and FYM (+18%) treatments in 2003
and all organic treatments (+20% to +37% compared to the control).

50 MSW
Mineralized C (%TOC)





0 7 14 21 28 35 42 49 56 63 70 77 84 91 98

Fig. 1. Cumulative organic carbon mineralization during the incubation of soil- Fig. 2. Evolution over time of mean weight diameters (MWD in mm) of the three
amendment mixtures under controlled laboratory conditions. The results are aggregate stability tests under the different field experiment treatments. MWDFW :
expressed as the percentage of total organic carbon (TOC) in the amendment. MWD of the fast wetting test (a), MWDMB : MWD of the mechanical breakdown test
For each amendment, the curves represent the average (±the standard error) of (b), and MWDSW : MWD of the slow wetting test (c) are presented. Control (C), green
organic carbon mineralization of the amendments applied in 1998, 2000, 2002, waste and sewage sludge compost (GWS), municipal solid waste compost (MSW),
2004 and 2006 during the field experiment. Green waste and sewage sludge com- biowaste compost (BW) and farmyard manure (FYM). The results are presented
post (GWS), municipal solid waste compost (MSW), biowaste compost (BW) and as the means ± the standard error. For each year, the different letters indicate a
farmyard manure (FYM). significant difference at the p < 0.05 level.

Please cite this article in press as: Annabi, M., et al., Improvement of soil aggregate stability by repeated applications of organic amendments to
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Table 2
Summary of analysis of variance (ANOVA) done on results of aggregate stability
according to the three tests of Le Bissonnais method to determine significant dif-
ferences between treatments for measured values of MWD (in mm): degree of
freedom (DF), p-values of ANOVAs and least significant difference (LSD in mm) at
the probability level p < 0.05.


1999 14 p-value 0.014 <0.001 0.028

LSD 0.022 0.121 0.048
2000 14 p-value <0.001 <0.001 <0.001
LSD 0.076 0.124 0.105
2002 14 p-value 0.358 0.065 0.003
LSD 0.058 0.102 0.048
2003 59 p-value 0.042 0.016 0.165
LSD 0.049 0.141 0.094
2004 44 p-value <0.001 <0.001 <0.001
LSD 0.048 0.167 0.073
2005 59 p-value <0.001 <0.001 <0.001
LSD 0.029 0.166 0.081
2007 44 p-value <0.001 <0.001 <0.001
LSD 0.032 0.140 0.077

When expressed relative to the control (Fig. 3a, Table 3),

MWDFW values tended to increase over time for all of the organic
treatments due to the successive applications of organic amend-
ments. The increase was more gradual for the FYM and GWS
amendments than for the MSW and BW applications, which rapidly
improved the aggregate resistance to slaking after the initial appli-
cations. The average increases in MWDFW relative to the control
treatment were calculated over the entire 9-year period of the field
experiment: +24% with MSW, +19% with BW, +14% with FYM and
+10% with the GWS amendment.

3.2.2. Mechanical breakdown test

An initial heterogeneity of the stability was also observed
using the mechanical breakdown test (Fig. 2b), and MWDMB val-
ues ranged from 0.57 to 0.86 mm. In 2000, only the MSW (+26%
compared to the control) and BW (+15%) composts resulted in
a significant improvement (p < 0.05) in aggregate resistance to
mechanical breakdown. In 2002, only the BW treatment caused
a significant increase (+15%, p < 0.05) in aggregate stability dur-
ing this test. In 2003, a general increase in aggregate stability was
observed for all treatments including the control plots. This was
accompanied by a further significant improvement in aggregate
stability (p = 0.016) with the organic treatments when compared to
the control. Between 2003 and 2007, a decline in absolute MWDMB Fig. 3. Temporal evolution of the aggregate stability for the different field exper-
values was observed, although the effect of the organic treatments iment treatments expressed relative to the control (ratio of the mean weight
relative to the control remained significant (Table 3) and tended to diameter in the amended treatments to the mean weight diameter in the con-
increase over time: +7% to +15% in 2003, and +24% to +92% in 2007 trol treatment). The fast wetting test (a), mechanical breakdown test (b) and slow
wetting test (c) are presented. Green waste and sewage sludge compost (GWS),
(Fig. 3b). At the end of the 9-year period, the largest increases were municipal solid waste compost (MSW), biowaste compost (BW) and farmyard
observed in the BW and GWS treatments: the average increases in manure (FYM). For each treatment, the different letters indicate a significant dif-
MWDMB relative to the control treatment, calculated over the entire ference at the p < 0.05 level.

Table 3 period, were +24% with BW, +15% with MSW, +13% with GWS and
Summary of analysis of variance (ANOVA) done on results of aggregate stability +6% with FYM.
according to the three tests of Le Bissonnais method to determine significant differ-
ences between years for each treatment. The ANOVA have been performed on MWD
values expressed relative to control: degree of freedom (DF), p-values of ANOVAs
3.2.3. Slow wetting test
and least significant difference (LSD) at the probability level p < 0.05. Similar to the results of the MWDMB tests, a certain extent of het-
erogeneity in the initial MWDSW values was observed among the
five treatments in 1999 (Fig. 2c). In 2000, only the MSW compost
GWS 50 p-value 0.013 <0.001 0.029 was able to significantly improve the aggregate stability (+43% rela-
LSD 0.14 0.19 0.20
tive to the control, p < 0.05). In 2002, the slow wetting test revealed
MSW 50 p-value <0.001 <0.001 0.121
LSD 0.12 0.14 0.20 a positive effect due to the organic amendments. The most pro-
BW 50 p-value 0.094 <0.001 0.002 nounced effect was observed for the MSW (+31%) and FYM (+17%)
LSD 0.19 0.14 0.19 treatments (Fig. 3c). In 2003, a general increase in aggregate stabil-
FYM 50 p-value <0.001 <0.001 <0.001 ity was also observed with this test followed by a general decline
LSD 0.11 0.18 0.13
from 2004 to 2007. Furthermore, all organic treatments in 2003

Please cite this article in press as: Annabi, M., et al., Improvement of soil aggregate stability by repeated applications of organic amendments to
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4.2. Temporal variations in aggregate stability

Aggregate stability is influenced by many intrinsic and exter-

nal factors (Amezketa, 1999). The intrinsic factors are linked to
primary soil characteristics such as soil texture, organic matter
content, mineralogy and pH, whereas the external factors include
climatic variables, biological variables and agricultural practices
such as tillage, irrigation and organic amendment applications.
Temporal variations in aggregate stability under field condi-
tions have been observed previously in several other studies of the
impacts of agricultural management, such as tillage, cropping or
amendment use, on aggregate stability (Guidi et al., 1988; Angers
et al., 1999; Nemati et al., 2000; Bissonnette et al., 2001). Dur-
ing our experiment, pronounced year-to-year variations in the
MWD values that could not be attributed to the organic inputs
Fig. 4. Temporal evolution of the total organic carbon content in aggregates (TOCag ) were observed for all of the treatments. Climate can influence
for the different field treatments. Control (C), green waste and sewage sludge com- soil aggregate stability either directly through wetting–drying and
post (GWS), municipal solid waste compost (MSW), biowaste compost (BW) and
freezing–thawing cycles or indirectly through the seasonal stimu-
farmyard manure (FYM). The results are presented as the means ± the standard error
of analysis in the sampled plots of the same treatment. In 1999, 2000 and 2002, only lation of biological activity (Guidi et al., 1988; Perfect et al., 1990;
one plot was sampled. Bronick and Lal, 2005). Drought conditions have been shown to
increase aggregate stability through the consolidation of aggre-
gates (Caron et al., 1992; Schjonning et al., 1994). Thus, the long
resulted in higher MWDSW values relative to the control. This effect
dry period observed during the late winter to early spring in 2003
was only significant for the FYM treatment (+14%). In 2004, 2005
and 2004 in the Paris region (79 mm and 89 mm of rainfall between
and 2007, all of the amendments exerted significantly positive and
February 1st and April 30th in 2003 and 2004, respectively) likely
increasing effects on aggregate stability when compared to the con-
contributed to the observed increase in aggregate stability to a cer-
trol: +20% to +40% in 2004, and +31% to +46% in 2007.
tain extent. However, these temporal variations are still not fully
When expressed relative to the control (Fig. 3c), the MWDSW
values tended to increase over time for the GWS and BW
treatments; the MSW and FYM applications resulted in greater
4.3. Variable effectiveness of the organic amendments and
improvements early in the experiment without any distinct
mechanisms involved in improving aggregate stability
changes thereafter. The average increases in MWDSW values rel-
ative to the control treatment for the entire period were +28% with
Initially, the silty loam soil of the trial field site displayed a poor
MSW, +18% with BW, +15% with FYM and +11% with GWS.
structural stability corresponding to a highly unstable soil prone
to surface crusting according to the surface stability and crusting
3.3. Organic carbon in the aggregates classes proposed by Le Bissonnais (1996). This poor initial aggregate
stability was related to the low proportions of stabilizing com-
At the start of the field experiment, the TOCag values ranged pounds such as clay, calcium carbonate and organic matter (Bronick
from 9.0 to 10.4 g kg−1 and increased over time with the repeated and Lal, 2005).
application of organic amendments. Since 2003, the TOCag val- The positive effect on aggregate stability observed with the
ues were higher in the organic treatments (p = 0.025) than in the tested organic amendments tended to increase gradually over time
control, which showed a certain extent of variation (Fig. 4). The and with cumulative applications of the amendments.
degree to which the TOCag values increased with the organic Improvements in aggregate stability following the addition of
treatments varied among the organic treatments. The relative amendments have been previously reported (Paré et al., 1999;
increases in C contents compared to the control were 3.5, 2.7, Caravaca et al., 2001). Total organic carbon is one of the most effec-
2.6, and 0.5% yr−1 in the GWS, FYM, BW and MSW treatments, tive aggregative factors in loamy soils (Gerzabek et al., 1995; Chenu
respectively. et al., 2000; Albiach et al., 2001) where other stabilizing agents, such
as clays, calcium carbonates and iron oxides, are lacking. The over-
4. Discussion all increase in MWD was positively correlated with the increase in
TOCag (Fig. 5).
4.1. Variable increases in soil organic carbon contents following The results observed in the field study partially confirmed the
the organic treatments conceptual model proposed by Annabi et al. (2007), which sug-
gests that aggregate stability increases after repeated applications
The effectiveness of the amendments at increasing soil organic of composts with different kinetics depending on amendment
C levels was directly related to the biodegradability of the amend- characteristics: (1) major increases and incomplete decreases
ments. Higher levels of compost biodegradability corresponded when microbial activity is involved after the addition of read-
to smaller increases in soil organic C contents. The MSW com- ily biodegradable organic matter (such as MSW compost); (2)
posts were characterized by poorly stabilized organic matter as regular and progressive increases in aggregate stability when well-
revealed by the pronounced mineralization of their organic C; this stabilized compost (such as BW or GWS) is added and a lesser extent
degree of mineralization was probably due to the high proportion of microbial stimulation is linked to their low level of labile carbon.
of cellulose derived from the paper and cardboard present in the After a given period, the cumulative effect of the well-stabilized
initial waste mixture (Francou et al., 2005). In contrast, the addi- amendments should exceed the cumulative effect that results from
tion of stable organic amendments, such as GWS or BW, resulted the application of highly biodegradable amendments, this mainly
in greater increases of the soil organic carbon contents because of due to an increase in soil organic stocks. Such enhanced aggregate
the high proportion of lignin that was initially present in the green stability kinetics were observed in the field trial as demonstrated
wastes. by a larger increase in MWD with the MSW treatment early in the

Please cite this article in press as: Annabi, M., et al., Improvement of soil aggregate stability by repeated applications of organic amendments to
a cultivated silty loam soil. Agric. Ecosyst. Environ. (2011), doi:10.1016/j.agee.2011.07.005
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AGEE-3945; No. of Pages 8

M. Annabi et al. / Agriculture, Ecosystems and Environment xxx (2011) xxx–xxx 7

2 Although between-year variations in the aggregate stability

MWDFW (which were partly related to variable climatic conditions before
soil sampling) had a greater influence than the positive effect of
MWD = 0.23TOC - 1.30 organic amendments on improving aggregate stability, the effect
r = 0.4 , p<0.05
1.4 of all organic amendments tended to increase over time relative
to the control. The positive effects of the tested amendments were
MWD (mm)

linked to their ability to increase soil organic carbon stocks. Dur-
MWD = 0.10TOC - 0.48
ing the first six years of the experiment, the effectiveness of the
0.8 r = 0.42 , p<0.01 MSW compost in enhancing aggregate stability was greater than
0.6 that of the other amendments and was probably linked to its labile
MWD = 0.05TOC - 0.24
r = 0.54 , p<0.01 organic pool, which was very effective in stimulating soil micro-
bial activity. During the later years of the experiment (2005 and
0.2 2007), the GWS and BW composts became more effective than the
0 other two amendments, and their influence was linked to a greater
8 8.5 9 9.5 10 10.5 11 11.5 12 12.5 13 13.5 increase in soil organic C contents because they were comprised of
TOC ag (g kg-1) more mature and stable organic matter. Positive correlations were
found between aggregate TOCag contents and the stability against
Fig. 5. Relationship between total organic carbon in aggregates (TOCag ) and the
the disruptive action of the three tests. Thus, biannual applications
mean weight diameters (MWD in mm) for the three aggregate stability tests.
MWDFW : MWD of the fast wetting test, MWDMB : MWD of the mechanical break- of compost to soil could indeed facilitate an improvement in aggre-
down test and MWDSW : MWD of the slow wetting test are presented. gate stability by stimulating soil microbial activity and increasing
soil organic carbon stocks.

field trial followed by larger MWD increases in the BW and GWS

treatments at the end of the 9-year period.
The amendments may have also indirectly influenced the aggre-
This work received financial support from Veolia Environment
gate stability by enhancing the crop yield and total biological
Research and Development and the French Association for Research
activity. Indeed, crops have been shown to exert a considerable
and Technology (ANRT). We thank J.N. Rampon, H. Gaillard and G.
influence on aggregate stability (Tisdall and Oades, 1982; Degens,
Bodineau for their technical assistance and two anonymous review-
1997) due to higher levels of binding agents such as polysaccha-
ers for their helpful comments.
rides and fungi in the rhizosphere or C inputs to the soil resulting
from the incorporation of crop residues. The application of GWS and
MSW composts corresponded to increases in crop yield (results not References
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Please cite this article in press as: Annabi, M., et al., Improvement of soil aggregate stability by repeated applications of organic amendments to
a cultivated silty loam soil. Agric. Ecosyst. Environ. (2011), doi:10.1016/j.agee.2011.07.005