Microbial necromass in cropland soils: A global meta-analysis of management effects

Ranran Zhou, Yuan Liu, Jennifer A.J. Dungait, Amit Kumar, Jinsong Wang, Lisa K. Tiemann, Fusuo Zhang, Yakov Kuzyakov, Jing Tian

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

38 Citations (Scopus)


Microbial necromass is a large and persistent component of soil organic carbon (SOC), especially under croplands. The effects of cropland management on microbial necromass accumulation and its contribution to SOC have been measured in individual studies but have not yet been summarized on the global scale. We conducted a meta-analysis of 481-paired measurements from cropland soils to examine the management effects on microbial necromass and identify the optimal conditions for its accumulation. Nitrogen fertilization increased total microbial necromass C by 12%, cover crops by 14%, no or reduced tillage (NT/RT) by 20%, manure by 21%, and straw amendment by 21%. Microbial necromass accumulation was independent of biochar addition. NT/RT and straw amendment increased fungal necromass and its contribution to SOC more than bacterial necromass. Manure increased bacterial necromass higher than fungal, leading to decreased ratio of fungal-to-bacterial necromass. Greater microbial necromass increases after straw amendments were common under semi-arid and in cool climates in soils with pH <8, and were proportional to the amount of straw input. In contrast, NT/RT increased microbial necromass mainly under warm and humid climates. Manure application increased microbial necromass irrespective of soil properties and climate. Management effects were especially strong when applied during medium (3–10 years) to long (10+ years) periods to soils with larger initial SOC contents, but were absent in sandy soils. Close positive links between microbial biomass, necromass and SOC indicate the important role of stabilized microbial products for C accrual. Microbial necromass contribution to SOC increment (accumulation efficiency) under NT/RT, cover crops, manure and straw amendment ranged from 45% to 52%, which was 9%–16% larger than under N fertilization. In summary, long-term cropland management increases SOC by enhancing microbial necromass accumulation, and optimizing microbial necromass accumulation and its contribution to SOC sequestration requires site-specific management.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1998-2014
Number of pages17
JournalGlobal Change Biology
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2023


  • amino sugars
  • cropland management
  • land use
  • meta-analysis
  • microbial necromass
  • soil carbon sequestration
  • soil organic matter

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Global and Planetary Change
  • Environmental Chemistry
  • Ecology
  • General Environmental Science


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