Dr. Elizabeth Rieke: Selecting for Microbial Life Strategies in Agricultural Soils Under Soil Health Promoting Practices

Soil microbes are largely responsible for degrading organic materials and cycling nutrients in soil, and are highly sensitive to physical and chemical changes in soil. Biological measurements currently used to assess soil health provide an understanding of available resource pools, metabolic byproducts, and overall community sizes of these microbes. While these measurements are sensitive to changes in agricultural management practices, less is known regarding which microbes are responsible for driving the changes due to management. Incorporating 16S rRNA amplicon sequencing in soil health studies allows for examination of bacterial and archaeal taxa at finer resolutions.

The Soil Health Institute, using data from the North American Project to Evaluate Soil Health Measurements, identified inherent soil properties and management practices which significantly affect bacterial and archaeal communities in soil using 16S rRNA amplicon sequencing. Preliminary results show between site variation in bacterial and archaeal community structures is highly dependent on soil pH and climate moisture regimes, while within site variation is dependent on management practices. Reducing tillage intensity from intense management to minimal disruption resulted on average in a 13% shift in bacterial and archaeal community structures. Additionally, relative abundances of three bacterial and archaeal orders directly related to nitrogen cycling were significantly greater in minimum tillage systems.

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