Nutrient Cycling in Agroecosystems

, Volume 75, Issue 1–3, pp 257–269 | Cite as

Total and organic soil carbon in cropping systems of Nepal

  • R. K. Shrestha
  • J. K. Ladha
  • S. K. Gami
Original Paper


The significance of soil organic matter (SOM) in sustaining agriculture has long been recognized. The rate of change depends on climate, cropping system, cropping practice, and soil moisture. A 3-yr on-farm study was conducted in two major agro-ecologies (hills with warm-temperate climate and plains with subtropical climate) of Nepal. The soils in warm-temperate climate are Lithic subgroups of Ustorthents with well-drained loamy texture, and in subtropical climate are Haplaquepts with imperfectly drained loamy texture. Farmers’ predominant cropping systems were selected from different cultivation length in addition to a reference sample collected from adjacent virgin forest. The objectives were to examine the effect of cultivation length and cropping system on total carbon, KMnO4-oxidizable soil C, C storage, and C/N ratio in two climatic scenarios: warm-temperate and subtropical. A large difference in KMnO4-oxidizable soil organic C was observed due to the effect of cultivation length and cropping system. However, TC remained similar during the 3-year study. The decrease in KMnO4-oxidizable C due to cultivation was more in the surface layer (43–56%) than in the subsurface layer (20–30%). Total C in uncultivated, < 10-year cultivated, and > 50-year cultivated soil was 22, 13, and 10 g kg−1 in warm-temperate climate and 10, 6, and 5 g kg−1 in subtropical climate, respectively. During the 3-year study period in both climates, large changes in soil C were observed for KMnO4-oxidizable C but not for TC, confirming our earlier work on the usefulness of the KMnO4 oxidized fraction for detecting a relatively short-term increase or decrease in soil C pool. The TC storage in uncultivated, < 10-year cultivated, and > 50-year cultivated soil was 38, 25, and 19 Mg ha−1 in warm-temperate climate and 22, 15, and 12 Mg ha−1 in subtropical climate, respectively. The rice–wheat and maize–potato cropping systems were good in storing soil C of 30 and 20 Mg ha−1 for 0–15-cm soil depth in warm-temperate climate. The rice–wheat cropping system was also good in storing soil C in subtropical climate (19 Mg ha−1) compared with other cropping systems studied.


KMnO4-oxidizable carbon Total carbon Carbon storage C/N ratio Climate Cropping system 


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This study was funded by the Rice–Wheat Consortium for the Indo-Gangetic Plain. The authors would like to thank S.L. Maskey, chief soil scientist, Soil Science Division, Nepal Agricultural Research Council, Lalitpur, Nepal; P. Hobbs, Cornell University, USA; and R.K. Gupta, Rice-Wheat coordinator, New Delhi, India, for their suggestions.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Natural ResourcesOhio State UniversityColumbusUSA
  2. 2.IRRI-IndiaNew DelhiIndia
  3. 3.Department of Crop and Soil SciencesBrad field Hall, IthacaUSA

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