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Soil Use and Management
Vol. 30, No.1,
2014, Pages: 160–167

Soil microbial diversity and activity in a Mediterranean olive orchard using sustainable agricultural practices

A. Sofo, A. Ciarfaglia, A. Scopa, I. Camele, M. Curci, C. Crecchio, C. Xiloyannis and A. M. Palese

School of Agricultural, Forestry, Food and Environmental Sciences (SAFE), Università degli Studi della Basilicata, Potenza, Italy.


Sustainable soil management of orchards can have positive effects on both soils and crop yields due to increases in microbial biomass, activity and complexity. The aim of this study was to investigate medium-term effects (12 yr) of two different management practices termed ‘sustainable’ (ST) and ‘conventional’ (CT) on soil microbial composition and metabolic diversity of a rainfed mature olive orchard in Southern Italy. ST included no-till, self-seeding weeds (mainly graminaceous and leguminosae), and mulch derived from olive tree prunings, whilst CT was managed by frequent tillage and included severe pruning with residues removed from the orchard. Microbial analyses were carried out by culture-dependent methods (microbial cultures and Biolog®). Molecular methods were used to confirm the identification by light microscopy of the isolates of fungi and Streptomyces. Significantly more culturable fungi and bacteria were found in ST than in CT. The number of fungal groups in ST was also significantly greater than in CT. Overall and substrate-specific Biolog® metabolic diversity indices of microbial communities and soil enzyme activities were greater in ST. The results demonstrate that soil micro-organisms respond positively to sustainable orchard management characterized by periodic applications of locally derived organic matter. This study confirms the need to encourage farmers with orchards in the Mediterranean basin to practise soil management based on organic matter inputs associated with zero tillage to improve soil functionality.

Keywords: BiologŪ; fungal identification; Olea europaea L.; soil enzyme activities; sustainable soil management.

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