Data_Sheet_1_Mixed Effects of Soil Compaction on the Nitrogen Cycle Under Pea and Wheat.docx
Soil compaction caused by highly mechanized agriculture can constrain soil microbial diversity and functioning. Physical pressure on the soil decreases macropores and thereby limits oxygen diffusion. The associated shift from aerobic to anaerobic conditions can reduce nitrification and promote denitrification processes, leading to nitrogen (N) losses and N depletion that affect plant productivity. High soil moisture content during trafficking can exacerbate the negative effects of soil compaction. However, the extent to which soil moisture amplifies the effects of compaction on the soil microbiome and its control over N cycling is not well understood. Using a controlled greenhouse experiment with two different crops (pea and wheat), we compared the effects of compaction at three different soil moisture levels on soil physicochemical properties, microbial diversity, and the abundance of specific N species and quantification of associated microbial functional groups in the N cycle. Soil compaction increased bulk density from 15% (light compaction) to 25% (severe compaction). Compaction delayed germination in both crops and reduced yield by up to 60% for pea and 40% for wheat. Compaction further induced crop-specific shifts in microbial community structures. After compaction, the relative abundance of denitrifiers increased along with increased nitrate (NO3–) consumption and elevated nitrous oxide (N2O) concentrations in the soil pores. Conversely, the relative abundance of nitrifiers remained stable under compaction, but potentially decelerated nitrification rates, resulting in ammonium (NH4+) accumulation in the soil. This study showed that soil compaction effects are proportional to the initial soil moisture content, which could serve as a good indicator of compaction severity on agricultural fields. However, the impact of soil compaction on crop performance and on microbial communities and functions associated with the N cycle were not necessarily aligned. These findings demonstrate that not only the soil physical properties but also various biological indicators need to be considered in order to provide more precise recommendations for developing sustainable farming systems.