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After 16 years under crops and pasture, an assessment was performed to determine the aggregation status and soil quality in a sandy loam soil exposed to wind erosion in a semiarid region of Argentina. The goal was to test the effectivity of pastures to improve soil qualities that increase the resistance to the erosive process and the degree of soil degradation produced under moldboard tillage. Soil samples from natural forest of Prosopis caldenia (calden) and bare soils were used to compare the effect of Secale cereale (rye) under plowing and cross strips with Eragrostis curvula (weeping love grass). The selected properties measured were aggregate size distribution (ASD), mean weight diameter (MWD), macro to microaggregate ratio, Chepil index, and total organic carbon content (OC). The OC and coarse (>0.250 mm) and fine (>0.05 mm) particulate organic matter, CPOM and FPOM, respectively, in four classes of aggregates (0.250, 0.500, 2.5 and 4.8 mm in size) were recorded. The results indicated that rye and Eragrostis included 80% of the ASD with aggregates smaller than 0.250 mm, 70% in the bare soil and only 60% in the natural forest. The lowest value of Chepil index, i.e., the minimum wind erosion risk, was observed in Prosopis and Eragrostis. Additionally, under natural forest the MWD was the largest, intermediate in Eragrostis and the lowest was measured in the bare soil and rye. The OC content varied with aggregate sizes and land uses, but those values were not consistent with the land use. Only Eragrostis presented a consistent positive relationship between OC and aggregate size. In this sandy loam soil the aggregation seems to depend on CPOM and FPOM. Specifically, the large aggregates in Eragrostis depend on CPOM and under natural forest, on FPOM. However, conventional plowing removed all the influence of particulate organic matter. Our finding is confirming the superior soil quality developed under natural forest and the need to replace the aggressive moldboard tillage system for no tillage due to the physical and biological degradation caused on this soil after 20 years of cropping.
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