Submitted to: Ecological Society of America (ESA)
Publication Type: Abstract Only
Publication Acceptance Date: 5/11/2018
Publication Date: 8/6/2018
Citation: Rottler, C.M., Steiner, J.L., Brown, D.P. 2018. Agricultural management impacts on soil health across the Southern Plains of the United States [abstract]. Ecological Society of America (ESA). Available at: https://eco.confex.com/eco/2018/meetingapp.cgi/Paper/74940.
Interpretive Summary: Abstract only
Technical Abstract: Improving soil health is commonly suggested as a way to “buffer” agricultural systems against climate change impacts such as increases in drought, storm severity and annual temperature. A number of producers in the Southern Plains and elsewhere have begun to manage with an emphasis on improving soil health, but adoption of these practices is not widespread. There is evidence that soil health management (SHM) has positive effects on soil health that conventional management (CM) does not, but the effects have not been quantified using a standard method across the Southern Plains, nor have they been compared to sustainably managed conventional systems. Variation in soil types, along with pronounced temperature and precipitation gradients, further complicate and limit the application of results from a single study location to the wider region. We address these challenges using a network of 3 pairs of SHM and CM sites at each of 12 locations in Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas. In each pair, we tested a suite of biological, chemical, and physical soil health indicators. We then analyzed differences between these indicators to better understand how SHM and CM fields compared across the region and identify potential effects of precipitation and temperature on these differences. Results/Conclusions: We found wide variation in the response of indicators to different management systems and climatic factors, as well as differential responses of SHM and CM fields to climate (temperature and precipitation). These results suggest that soil health improvements as a result of SHM vary across the region and may not be readily apparent to land managers and land owners. However, the differing relationships between temperature or precipitation and indicators on SHM and CM fields suggest that the advantages of SHM may only become readily apparent as climatic shifts result in new temperature and precipitation regimes across the region. The results of our study can be used by producers and land managers as well as those working with producers to develop reasonable expectations when adopting new management practices, ultimately leading to better understanding of, and ideally, wider adoption of, soil health management practices.