Submitted to: Advances in Agroecology
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: 1/30/2002
Publication Date: 2/1/2004
Citation: Stubbs, T.L., Kennedy, A.C., Schillinger, W.F. 2004. Soil ecology in changing tillage systems. New Dimensions in Agroecology. Journal of Crop Improvement. 11:105-135. Interpretive Summary: Growers in the United States and worldwide adopt no-tillage cropping to improve soil quality and reduce the impact of agriculture on the environment; however, the impact of these practices on soil microbial populations is not well understood. No-till keeps the residue on the surface and only minimally disturbs the soil, which leave the soil less susceptible to wind and water erosion. Intact soil and residue maintained on the soil surface often increases soil organic matter levels and microbial populations. Research on the changes in the soil biology with tillage is difficult due to the number of organisms involved and the lack of appropriate methods to isolate and identify the soil community. This chapter examines changes that take place in the soil biology during the transition to no-till. It examines the interactions among soil organisms and their environment as soil conditions are altered with changing tillage. Scientists and growers need to understand how changes in tillage affect soil organisms and their role within the soil environment to develop sustainable agricultural practices to benefit agriculture.
Technical Abstract: With sustainable agricultural practices becoming an ever-increasing goal of growers and the general public alike, the need for an understanding of the ecology of the soil system is needed. Studies on changing soil ecology with changing tillage are needed to increase our knowledge of soil quality, while minimizing the impact of agriculture on the environment. The soil biota and its ecology are critical to the functioning of any agricultural system. Long-term cultivation has a profound effect on biotic populations, processes and community structure. Growers may increase cropping intensity, experiment with different crop rotations, and introduce new crop species all of which may further alter the soil environment and lead to changes in the soil biota. Thorough examination of soil environmental changes during the transition period is warranted so that growers may successfully reduce tillage, while reducing economic risk. Almost all groups of soil organisms are negatively impacted by soil disturbance. Onl a small portion of the microbial or faunal groups can currently be collected and studied, which provides only a partial picture of the soil communities. Population and process level studies, as well as investigations at the ecosystem and functional level, are needed to develop management systems that include soil biota for successful sustainable cropping systems. Ecological investigations will enhance the understanding of changes that occur with the adoption of reduced tillage and no-till cropping systems so that these systems become increasingly viable.