Friday, June 28, 2013

Student Resarch: Precision Zonal Management

Rewiring the network? Structural and functional responses of soil faunal food webs to agricultural disturbances.

Lesley is currently working in collaboration with the Pennsylvania State University, and several other universities, on precision zonal management (PZM) in corn and soybean rotations. Corn and soy are the two biggest "major" crops grown in the US and occupy over 150 million acres of farmland (EPA). Their group is examining the effects of ridge tillage, a system that creates raised rows (for example by using a ridge-till planter), on a range of important crop, soil, and soil faunal (animal) responses. 

An example of the soil profile in a ridge till system. 

Here's a brief overview of Lesley's goals, objectives, and potential outcomes:
"Conventionally managed annual row crop systems often rely heavily on synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, crop monocultures, and tillage to produce consistent cash crop yields. Our research will determine how agricultural management practices affect soil food web structure and its capacity to function. The cumulative impacts of agricultural management may reduce the functional stability of soil fauna communities by constraining successional processes and rewiring consumer-prey relationships. My objectives are to:
A.    Determine the effects pesticide seed treatments have on the functional capacity and composition of the soil food web.
B.    Ascertain how zonal tillage affects the soil food web in terms of community diversity, structure, and functional stability.
C.    Determine how divergent the soil food webs become at the sub-rhizosphere scale in heterogeneously managed agroecosystems.
We will address these objectives through a combination of field experiments and modeling. This research will further our understanding of how agricultural disturbances affect soil food web structure and its capacity to function. More broadly, this research will provide farmers with practical information regarding the direct and indirect effects management practices have on soil food web communities and their capacity to perform agriculturally important ecosystem services."
A happy Lesley in PA, early in the season. 
Litter bags - food for the soil fauna.
Lesley measures how much  is consumed over the course of the growing season. 
Soil cores are used for a variety of measurements, including soil moisture,
to sample the nematode community, and to measure corn roots. 

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