Soil quality assessment through a multi-approach analysis in soils of abandoned terraced land in NE Spain

G. Pardini, M. A. Gispert


The abandonment of agricultural land in mountainous areas has been an outstanding problem along the last century and has captured the attention of scientists, technicians and administrations, for the dramatic consequences sometimes occurred due to soil instability, steep slopes, rainfall regimes and wildfires. Hidromorfological and pedological alterations causing exceptional floods and accelerated erosion processes has therefore been studied, identifying the cause in the loss of landscape heterogeneity. Through the disappearance of agricultural works and drainage maintenance, slope stability has resulted severely affected. The mechanization of agriculture has caused the displacement of vines, olives and corks trees cultivation in terraced areas along the Mediterranean catchment towards more economically suitable areas. On the one hand, land use and management changes have implicated sociological changes as well, transforming areas inhabited by agricultural communities into deserted areas where the colonization of disorganized spontaneous vegetation has buried a valuable rural patrimony. On the other hand, lacking of planning and management of the abandoned areas has produced badlands and infertile soils due to wildfire and high erosion rates strongly degrading the whole ecosystems. In other cases, after land abandonment a process of soil regeneration has been recorded. Investigations have been conducted in a part of NE Spain where extended areas of terraced soils previously cultivated have been abandoned in the last century. The selected environments were semi-abandoned vineyards, semi-abandoned olive groves, abandoned stands of cork trees, abandoned stands of pine trees, scrubland of Cistaceaea, scrubland of Ericaceaea, and pasture. The research work was focused on the study of most relevant physical, chemical and biological soil properties, as well as runoff and erosion under soils with different plant cover to establish the abandonment effect on soil quality, due to the peculiarity and vulnerability of these soils with a much reduced depth. The period of observation was carried out from autumn 2009 to autumn 2010. The sediment concentration of soil erosion under vines was recorded as 34.52 g/l while under pasture it was 4.66 g/l. In addition, the soil under vines showed the least amount of organic matter, which was 12 times lower than all other soil environments. The carbon dioxide (CO2) and total glomalin (TG) ratio to soil organic carbon (SOC) in this soil was 0.11 and 0.31 respectively. However, the soil under pasture contained a higher amount of organic matter and showed that the CO2 and TG ratio to SOC was 0.02 and 0.11 respectively indicating that the soil under pasture better preserves the soil carbon pool. A similar trend was found in the intermediate soils in the sequence of land use change and abandonment. Soil structural stability increased in the two soil fractions investigated (0.25-2.00 mm, 2.0-5.6 mm) especially in those soils that did not undergo periodical perturbations like wildfires. Soil quality indexes were obtained by using relevant physical and chemical soil parameters. Factor analysis carried out to study the relationship between all soil parameters allowed to related variables and environments and identify those areas that better contribute to soil quality towards others that may need more attention to avoid further degradation processes.


land use change; land abandonment; soil depth, canopy cover; soil organic carbon; soil structure; glomalin; soil erosion

Full Text:



ALEF, K., NANNIPIERI, P., (1995). Methods in Applied Soil Microbiology and Biochemistry. 576 pp. Patron Editore, Bologna.

ALBALADEJO MONTORO, J., STOCKING, M.A., (1989). Comparative evaluation of two models in predicting storm soil loss from erosion plots in semi-arid Spain. Catena, 16: 227-236.

BRADFORD, M.M., (1976). A rapid and sensitive method for the quantization of microgram quantities of protein utilizing the principle of protein–dye binding. Analytical Biochemistry, 72: 248-254.

BORIE, F., RUBIO, R., ROUANET, J., MORALES, A., BORIE, G., ROJAS, C. (2006). Effect of tillage systems on soil characteristics, glomalin and mycorrhizal propagules in a Chilean Ultisol. Soil & Tillage Research, 88: 253-261.

CALVO-CASES, A., BOIX-FAYOS, C., IMESON, A.C., (2003). Runoff generation, sediment movement and soil water behaviour on calcareous (limestone) slopes of some Mediterranean environments in southeast Spain. Geomorphology, 50: 269-291.

CAMMERAAT, L.H., IMESON, A.C. (1998). Deriving indicators of soil degradation from soil aggregation studies in southeastern Spain and southern France. Geomorphology, 23: 307-321.

CASTILLO, V. M., GÓMEZ PLAZA, A., MARTÍNEZ-MENA, M., ALBALADEJO, J. (2000). Respuesta hidrológica en medios semiáridos: las cuencas experimentales de la Sierra del Picarcho, Murcia (España). Cuadernos de Investigación Geográfica, 26: 81-94.

DORAN, J.W., PARKIN, T.B., (1994). Defining and assessing soil quality. In: Defining Soil Quality for a Sustainable Environment. (Doran, J.W., Coleman, D.C., Bezdicek, D.F., Stewart, B.A. Eds.). Soil Science Society America, Special Publication No. 35, pp. 3-21, Madison, Wisconsin, USA.

DE NOBILI, M., MAGGIONI, A., (1993). Influenza della sostanza organica sulle propiretà fisiche del suolo. In: Ciclo della Sostanza organica del suolo (Nannipieri, P. Ed.). Patron Editore, pp. 43-54, Bologna.

DUNJÓ, G., PARDINI, G., GISPERT, M., (2003). Land use change effects on abandoned terraced soils in a Mediterranean catchment, NE Spain. Catena, 52: 23-37.

DUNJÓ, G., PARDINI, G., GISPERT, M., (2004). The role of land use-land cover on runoff generation and sediment yield at a microplot scale, in a small Mediterranean catchment. Journal of Arid Environments, 57: 99-116.

EDWARDS, N.T., (1982). The use of soda lime for measuring respiration rates in terrestrial systems. Pedobiologia, 23: 321-330.

FRANQUESA, T., (1995). El paisatge vegetal de la península del Cap de Creus. Arxiu de les Seccions de Ciències, CIX secció de Ciències Biològiques, Institut d’Estudis Catalans, 628 pp., Barcelona.

FORSTER, J.C., (1995) Soil physical analysis. In:, Methods in Soil Microbiology and Biochemistry (Alef, K., Nannipieri, P., Eds.) Academic Press, pp. 79-87, 105-121, London.

GROGAN, P., (1998). CO2 flux measurement using soda lime: The appropriate correction for water formed during CO2 adsorption. Ecology, 79: 1467-1468.

GERLACH, T., (1967). Hillslope troughs for measuring sediment movement. Revue du Geómorfologie Dynamique, 4: 173-175.

HEINEMEYER, O., INSAM, H., KAISER, E.A., WALENZIK, G., (1989). Soil microbial biomass and respiration measurements: an automated technique based on infrared gas analysis. Plant and Soil, 116: 191-195.

KEMPER, W.D., ROSENAU, R. C., (1986). Aggregate stability and size distribution. In Methods of soil analysis. (Klute, A., Ed.). ASA and SSSA, pp. 425-442, Madison, WI.

KJELDAHL, J., (1983). A new method for the determination of nitrogen in organic matter. Z. Anal. Chem. 22: 366-377.

LARSON, W.E., PIERCE, F.J., (1994). The dynamics of soil quality as a measure of sustainable management. In: Defining Soil Quality for a Sustainable Environment. (Doran, J.W., Coleman, D.C., Bezdicek, D.F., Stewart, B.A. Eds.). Soil Science Society of America. Special Publication No. 35, pp. 37-51, Madison, Wisconsin.

MAINGUET, M., (1994). Desertification: Natural background and human mismanagement, 2nd Edition. Springer Verlag, 235 pp., Heidelberg.

MCLAREN, R.G., CAMERON, K.C., (1996). Soil Science. Sustainable production and environmental production. Oxford University Press. Second Edition, 304 pp., Auckland.

NATIONAL RESEARCH COUNCIL (USA), (1993). Soil and Water Quality: an Agenda for Agriculture. National Academy Press, 202 pp., Washington, DC.

OADES, J.M., (1984). Soil organic matter and structural stability: Mechanisms and implications for management. Plant and soil, 76: 319-337.

OADES, J.M., WATERS, A.G., (1991). Aggregate hierarchy in soils. Australian Journal of Soil research, 29: 815-828.

PAGE, A.L., MILLER, R.H., KEENEY, D.R., (1982). Methods of soil analysis, Part 2; Chemical and Microbiological properties. Agronomy Monograph No. 9, 802 pp., Madison.

PANIAGUA A., KAMMERBAUER, J., AVEDILLO, M., ANDREWS, A.M., (1999). Relationship of soil characteristics to vegetation successions on a sequence of degraded and rehabilitated soils in Honduras. Agriculture, Ecosystems & Environment, 72: 215-225.

PARDINI, G., GISPERT, M., (2006). Impact of land abandonment on water erosion in soils of the Iberian Peninsula. Agrochimica, 50: 13-24.

PARDINI, G., GISPERT, M., DUNJÓ, G., (2003). Runoff erosion and nutrient depletion in five Mediterranean soils of NE Spain under different land use. The Science of the total environment, 309: 213-224.

PARDINI, G., GISPERT, M., DUNJÓ, G., (2004). Relative influence of wildfire on soil properties and erosion processes in different Mediterranean environments in NE Spain. The Science of the total environment, 328: 237-248.

PORTA, J., LÓPEZ-ACEVEDO, M., ROQUERO, C., (1994). Edafología para la agricultura y el medio ambiente. Mundi Prensa, 807 pp., Madrid.

SEMENOV, V.M., KRAVCHENKO, I.K., IVANNIKOVAL, T.V., KUZNETSOVA, L.A., SEMENOV, N.A., GISPERT, M., PARDINI, G., (2006). Experimental determination of the active organic matter content in some soils of natural and agricultural ecosystems. Eurasian Soil Science, 39: 251-260.

SHUKLA, M.K., LAL, R., EBINGER, M., (2006). Determining soil quality indicators by factor analysis. Soil and Tillage Research, 87: 194-204.

TRESEDER, K.K., TURNER, K.M., (2007). Glomalin in ecosystems. SSSAJ, 71 (4): 1257-1266.

TRIMBLE, S.W., (1990). Geomorphic effects of vegetation cover and management: some time and space consideration in prediction of erosion and sediment yield. In: Vegetation and Erosion, Processes and Environments. (Thornes, J., Ed.). Wiley & Sons, pp. 55-65, London.

VANCE, E.D., BROOKES, P.C., JENKINSON, D.S., (1987). An extraction method for measuring microbial biomass C. Soil Biology and Biochemistry, 19: 703-707.

WRIGHT, S.F., UPADHYAYA, A., (1996). Extraction of an abundant and unusual protein from soil and comparison with hyphal protein of arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi. Soil Science, 161: 575-586.

WRIGHT, S.F., UPADHYAYA, A., (1998). A survey of soils for aggregate stability and glomalin, a glycoprotein produced by hyphae of arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi. Plant and Soil, 198: 97-107.

WRIGHT, S.F., STARR, J.L., PALTINEANU, I.C., (1999). Changes in aggregate stability and concentration of glomalin during tillage management transition. Soil Science Society America Journal, 63: 1825-1829.

WRIGHT, S.F., ANDERSON, R.L., (2000). Aggregate stability and glomalin in alternative crop rotations for the central Great Plains. Biology and Fertility of Soils, 31: 249-253.

ZHANG, R., (1997). Determination of soil sorptivity and hydraulic conductivity from the disk infiltrometer. Soil Science Society America Journal, 61: 1024-1030.


Copyright (c) 2013 G. Pardini, M. A. Gispert

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

© Universidad de La Rioja, 2013

ISSN 0211-6820

EISSN 1697-9540