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Root modulation of soil pore architecture as a potential driver of divergent C accrual between two cover crop types

EMSL Project ID


Global carbon (C) storage in soils is critical to mitigating climate change. However, there are substantial uncertainties as to how terrestrial C building practices, such as agricultural cover crops, impact the long-term soil organic carbon (SOC) pools. A mechanistic understanding of land management practices with the goal of C sequestration is crucial for our environmental and food security. Three years ago, we established a table grape vineyard with two different types of alleyway cover crops—a herbaceous and a grass species—and a bare control. Our preliminary data suggests that the herbaceous cover crop increases microbial population biomass, soil aggregate stability, and enhances water retention but the underlying mechanisms driving these differences between cover crop types remain inconclusive. Here, we propose to build on our study to evaluate cover crop root structures and correlate them with soil pore architecture and assay minerally associated SOC in soil aggregates. To achieve this, three soil core replicates per treatment will be collected in alleyways at peak cover crop growth and analyzed using a combination of X-ray computed tomography and hydraulic characterization. Furthermore, SOC pools will be studied using high-resolution biogeochemical characterization, particularly testing whether different cover crops enhance the stabilization and protection of SOC in organo-mineral association and soil aggregates. Data gathered from these capabilities will inform on how cover crop species differentially modulate soil properties important for soil C accrual and sequestration.

Project Details

Project type
Exploratory Research
Start Date
End Date


Principal Investigator

Lauren Hale
United States Department of Agriculture - Agricultural Research Service


Jean Rodriguez Ramos
A&P Inphatec

Team Members

Natalie Scott