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ARS Home » Midwest Area » Columbia, Missouri » Cropping Systems and Water Quality Research » Research » Publications at this Location » Publication #357790

Title: A chronosequence of soil health under tallgrass prairie reconstruction

item LI, CHENHUI - University Of Missouri
item Veum, Kristen
item GOYNE, KEITH - University Of Missouri
item NUNES, MARCIO - Orise Fellow
item Acosta-Martinez, Veronica

Submitted to: Applied Soil Ecology
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: 2/16/2021
Publication Date: 2/24/2021
Citation: Li, C., Veum, K.S., Goyne, K., Nunes, M.R., Acosta Martinez, V. 2021. A chronosequence of soil health under tallgrass prairie reconstruction. Applied Soil Ecology. 164. Article 103939.

Interpretive Summary: Prairie restoration and reconstruction efforts often target vulnerable or degraded sites with the goal of improving soil health and ecosystem function, yet the long-term effects are not well understood. In this study, soil health was evaluated across a 13-yr chronosequence of formerly cultivated fields restored to native tallgrass prairie in Central Missouri. A suite of soil physical and biochemical properties were determined at soil depths of 0 to 5 cm and 5 to 15 cm. From 0-8 yr, results showed that prairie restoration improved soil aggregation, accumulated soil total organic carbon (SOC), total nitrogen (TN), active C and N, and mineralizable C and N, and expressed increased activities of four enzymes involved in C, N, P, and S cycling. The ratios of active C to SOC and active N to TN declined with increasing time post-restoration, reflecting conversion of active C/N pools to more stable C/N pools, likely due to increased microbial activity and organic inputs in the restored prairie. From 8 to 13 yr post-restoration, soil health indicators generally declined. This trend across all years is likely due to multiple factors, including differences in the condition of the soil when restoration was initiated (e.g., early restoration efforts targeted highly degraded soils), improved prairie restoration strategies over time, and ecological processes related to succession. Overall, prairie restoration holds great potential for restoration of soil health, and the practices and factors affecting prairie restoration merit further study for an improved understanding of ecological resilience. The results of this study contribute to a greater understanding of the effects of long-term prairie restoration practices and will be useful to scientists, landowners, and policy makers.

Technical Abstract: Soil health changes induced by prairie reconstruction (cultivated fields to tallgrass prairie) were assessed in Central Missouri within sites representing a chronosequence of 0, 2, 3, 4, 6, 9, 10, 11, 12, and 13-yr post-reconstruction. In addition, a nearby remnant native prairie, two long-term reconstructed prairies (~25 and ~57-yr post-reconstruction), and a biofuel prairie 9-yr post-reconstruction were evaluated for comparative purposes. From 0 to 8-yr, prairie reconstruction increased soil aggregation, total soil organic carbon (SOC), total nitrogen (TN), active C and N (permanganate oxidizable C and total protein), and mineralizable C and N (soil respiration and potentially mineralizable nitrogen), becoming more similar to levels in the remnant prairie. Further, four enzymes involved in the cycling of C (ß-glucosidase), N (ß-glucosaminidase), P (acid phosphatase), and S (arylsulfatase) demonstrated amplified activities within samples collected to a depth of 15-cm. Over time, the ratios of active C to SOC and active N to TN declined, reflecting the conversion of active C/N pools into more stable C/N pools due to continued organic inputs and increased microbial activity. In contrast, from 8- to 13-yr post-reconstruction, the number of these same soil health indicators declined, which may be attributed to historical land use, the improvement of prairie reconstruction and management strategies, and ecological processes related to succession. Overall, prairie reconstruction holds great potential for soil health restoration in degraded agricultural landscapes, and further study is needed to understand how historical land use and prairie reconstruction practices affect soil health and ecological resilience.