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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), Y. Le Bissonnais (c), M. Le Villio-Poitrenaud (b), S. Houot (a)

Annabi & al., 2011
Annabi & al., Agriculture, Ecosystems & Environment Volume 144, Issue 1, November 2011, Pages 382-389

Water erosion affects more than 5 million hectares of arable soils in France [1]. In silty soils, which are widely represented in northern Europe, crust formation increases the risk of sheet erosion and has been linked to the low stability of aggregates [2]. In these soils, organic matter is the principal agent that contributes to aggregate stability [3]. Composts resulting from the treatment of organic municipal wastes represent valuable sources of exogenous organic matter that could be applied to soils to increase their organic matter contents [4] and restore their physical properties, including soil aggregate stability [5]. The objective of this study was to compare the effects of repeated field applications of three urban compost amendments and one farmyard manure amendment over a 9-year period on aggregate stability in a silty loam soil initially characterized by low clay and initial organic matter contents and poor aggregate stability.

Main results

There were three main goals of this study:

  • To quantify the effects of repeated applications of three urban composts and one farmyard manure amendment on aggregate stability in a silty loam soil during a 9-year field experiment
  • To compare the mechanisms involved in the improvement of aggregate stability by using the three tests of the “Le Bissonnais” method to measure aggregate stability
  • To link the observed effects to the evolution of organic carbon contents in the amended soils.

Three different aggregate stability tests with increasing disruptive intensities (fast wetting > mechanical breakdown > slow wetting tests) and different disaggregation mechanisms, were used. All of the amendments, which were applied at approximately 4Mg 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 (figure 1).

Fig.1 Annabi

Figure 1: Temporal evolution of the aggregate stability for the different field experiment treatments expressed relative to the control (ratio of the mean weight diameter in the amended treatments to the mean weight diameter in the control treatment). The fast wetting test (a), mechanical breakdown test (b) and slow wetting test (c) are presented. Green waste and sewage sludge compost (GWS), municipal solid waste compost (MSW), biowaste compost (BW) and farmyard manure (FYM). For each treatment, the different letters indicate a significant difference at the p < 0.05 level.

However, the year-to-year variations in the aggregate stability that related to factors other than the organic inputs were greater than the cumulative increase in aggregate stability relative to the control. The positive effects of the tested amendments on aggregate stability were linked to their contribution to soil organic C contents. The addition 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 compost (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 compost (BW), improved the aggregate stability by increasing inter-particular cohesion. The MSW compost was the most efficient in improving aggregate stability during the first 6 years of the experiment. 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 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.


1. Le Bissonnais, Y., Montier, C., Jamagne, M., Daroussin, J., King, D.E., 2002. Mapping erosion risk for cultivated soil in France. Catena 46, 207–220.

2. Bresson, L.M., Le Bissonnais, Y., Andrieux, P., 2006. Soil surface crusting and structure slumping in Europe. In: Boardman, J., Posen, J. (Eds.), Soil Erosion in Europe. Wiley, England, pp. 289–500.

3. Tessier, D., Bruand, A., Le Bissonnais, Y., Dambrine, E., 1998. Chemical and physical properties of soils in France. Spatial context and evolution. Geologica Carpathica 6, 121–131.

4. Lashermes, G., Houot, S., Nicolardot, B., Parnaudeau, V., Thuriès, L., Morvan, T., Chaussod, R., Linères, M., Guillotin, M.L., Metzger, L., Tricaud, A., Villette, C., Mary, B., 2009. Indicator of potential carbon storage in soils via exogenous organic matter application. Eur. J. Soil. Sci. 60, 297–310.

5. Aggelides, S.M., Londra, P.A., 2000. Effects of compost produced from town wastes and sewage sludge on the physical properties of a loamy and a clay soil. Bioresour. Technol. 71, 253–259.


a INRA, UMR 1091 Environment and Arable Crops, 78850 Thiverval-Grignon, France
b Veolia Environment–Research and Development, - 78520 Limay, France
c INRA, UMR Laboratoire d Etude des Interactions Sol-Agrosystème-Hydrosystème, SupAgro-INRA-IRD, 34060 Montpellier, France