Soil aggregate stability and macrofauna as indicators of soil health and sustainable agricultural systems

Conference paper

Stroud, J. L. and Watts, C. W. 2017. Soil aggregate stability and macrofauna as indicators of soil health and sustainable agricultural systems. International Fertiliser Society 810. International Fertiliser Society (IFS).

AuthorsStroud, J. L. and Watts, C. W.
TypeConference paper

A healthy soil associated with sustainable crop production is likely to be considered a sustainable agricultural system. Soil health indicators only have value if they influence management decisions that support soil and food security. The surface layer (<5 cm) of a field is disproportionally affected by arable land management practices. For silty-clay soils, structural degradation of this layer leads to slaking under the impact of rain, with implications for nutrient leaching, capping, crop emergence, infiltration, runoff and erosion. Thus, aggregate stability (rapid wetting) measurements have relevance for both soil and food security. Also, earthworm activity is a major factor regulating aggregate stability, and important for both soil functions and supporting plant productivity.
Three dynamic soil health indicators, aggregate mean weight diameter, earthworm populations and Lumbricus.terrestris (indicator species) midden abundance, were measured in arable field trials. Results showed that all soils tested were unstable, contained small earthworm populations and very few L. terrestris earthworms, although the actions of the limited numbers of L. terrestris anecic earthworms, specifically their middens, were associated with high biological activity and soil aggregation, highlighting their role as an ecosystem engineer.
Contrary to expectations, organic amendments did not improve the indicators. A more fundamental change in management practices addressing tillage and/or cropping is likely to be needed to improve soil health and the sustainability of the agricultural system. Despite the indications of poor soil health, crop yields have been sustained and, in many cases, increased by appropriate nutrient management. However, these findings suggest that these agricultural systems may not be resilient to changes in rotation, climate and weather variability

Year of Publication2017
Conference titleInternational Fertiliser Society
Conference locationCambridge, UK
Event date29 Nov 2017
Web address (URL)
Open accessPublished as green open access
JournalProceedings of the International Fertiliser Society
Journal citation810
PublisherInternational Fertiliser Society (IFS)
Funder project or codeS5528
FunderNatural Environment Research Council
Output statusPublished
Publication dates
Print29 Dec 2017
Copyright licenseCC BY

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