© University of Augsburg

Tillage erosion affects crop yields and carbon balance in hummocky landscapes  

Duration: from 2019 to 2022

Funding institution: German Research Foundation (DFG)   

Principal Investigator(s): Prof. Dr. Peter Fiener, Prof. Dr. Michael Sommer (ZALF)

Associate Researchers: Lena Katharina Öttl


Research topics: tillage erosion, crop yields, soil organic carbon



Soil erosion on arable land is a major environmental threat affecting various soil related ecosystem services. Traditionally, water (and partly wind) erosion is studied, while erosion due to agricultural soil management (tillage erosion) is often ignored. Nevertheless, tillage erosion often has a similar magnitude as water erosion and can even be the dominate process in areas where erosive rainfall is rarer.


The main goal of the project is to quantify the impacts of tillage erosion upon crop yields as well as feedbacks on the carbon cycle in a hilly, young moraine landscape in North-East Germany.

It is hypothesized that tillage erosion increases in-field yield variability and landscape soil carbon storage, but decreases mean yields. The test region (catchmentof the river Quillow) is characterized by an intensive, strongly mechanized agriculture as well as small precipitation sums with regular dry spells. Hence, agricultural production is very sensitive to interannual and seasonal variability in precipitation and temperature.


The working program of the “TilEro”-poject combines

  1. experimental approaches to determine erosion rates and carbon balance components,
  2. multi-temporal remote sensing of in-field variability of crop yields,
  3. and coupled long-term soil erosion and carbon balance modelling (1960-2020).


The project aims to close an important gap in our understanding of the interactions between tillage erosion, crop yields and carbon cycling in a representative hummocky landscape, where water erosion is small but shallow soils are especially sensitive to erosion processes. The test region in North-East Germany is an important area of crop production that already suffers from water shortage, which is most pronounced on eroded hilltops. Building on long-term data records, the region is ideally suited as showcase for many other hummocky regions of the world where intensively mechanized agriculture leads to pronounced tillage erosion.


If you are interested in writing your BSc. or MSc. thesis in the TilEro-project please do not hesitate to contact Lena Katharina Öttl or Peter Fiener (see contact below).


© University of Augsburg


Öttl L. K., Wilken F., Auerswald K., Sommer M., Wehrhan M., Fiener, P. 2021. Tillage erosion as an important driver of in‐field biomass patterns in an intensively used hummocky landscape. Land Degradation & Development. doi: DOI:10.1002/ldr.3968


Wilken F., Ketterer M., Koszinski S., Sommer M., Fiener P. (2020). Understanding the role of water and tillage erosion from 239+240Pu tracer measurements using inverse modelling. SOIL. doi.org/10.5194/soil-2020-22


Fiener P., Wilken F., Aldana-Jague E., Deumlich D., Gómez J.A., Guzmán G., Hardy R.A., Quinton J.N., Sommer M., Van Oost K., Wexler R. (2018). Uncertainties in assessing tillage erosion – How appropriate are our measuring techniques? Geomorphology, 304, 214-225. doi.org/10.1016/j.geomorph.2017.12.031

Contact Persons

Water and Soil Resource Research