BACKGROUND: Soil carbon sequestration has been investigated for a long time because of its potential to mitigate the greenhouse effect. No- or reduced tillage, crop rotations, or cover crops have been investigated and practiced to sequester carbon in soils but the roles of soil biota, particularly microorganisms, have been mostly ignored although they affect the amount and stability of soil organic matters.
METHODS AND RESULTS: In this study we analyzed the organic matter and microbial community in organically cultivated corn field soils where no-tillage (NT) or conventional tillage (CT) had been practiced for about three years. The amounts of organic matter and recalcitrant carbon pool were 18.3 g/kg dry soil and 4.1 g C/kg dry soil, respectively in NT soils while they were 12.4 and 2.5, respectively in CT soils. The amounts of RNA and DNA, and the copy numbers of bacterial 16S rRNA genes and fungal ITS sequences were higher in NT soils than in CT soils. No-tillage treatment increased the diversities of soil bacterial and fungal communities and clearly shifted the bacterial and fungal community structures. In NT soils the relative abundances of bacterial phyla known as copiotrophs, Betaproteobacteria and Bacteroidetes, increased while those known as oligotrophs, Acidobacteria and Verrucomicrobia, decreased compared to CT soils. The relative abundance of a fungal phylum, Glomeromycota, whose members are known as arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi, was about two time higher in NT soils than in CT soils, suggesting that the higher amount of organic matter in NT soils is related to its abundance.
CONCLUSION: This study shows that no-tillage treatment greatly affects soil microbial abundance and community structure, which may affect the amount and stability of soil organic matter.