Dr. Shannon Cappellazzi: Flexible Framework to Quantify the Functions of Soil: Examples with Nitrogen Cycling

The Soil Health Institute is working on building a flexible framework to quantify the functions of soil as a means of interpreting soil health measurements. This framework will be meaningful for farmers and ranchers, those interested in ecosystem services provided by soils, and a host of other stakeholders, according to Dr. Shannon Cappellazzi, Lead Scientist at SHI.

A healthy soil is a vital living ecosystem that functions to its capacity. Soil Health Institute soil scientists are using a suite of tests to develop formulas that assess how well a particular soil is storing carbon, cycling nitrogen and other nutrients, storing water, infiltrating water, purifying water, providing habitat, being a source of biological diversity, suppressing pests and disease, and regulating atmospheric gases such as carbon dioxide (CO2) and nitrous oxide (N2O).

Rather than expensive testing that measures each of these outcomes specifically, we are evaluating more than 31 soil health indicators to draw relationships between simple measurements and these functions. In doing so, we will determine a minimum suite of measurements that provide scientifically rigorous data while maintaining economic feasibility for a wide variety of potential stakeholders, Dr. Cappellazzi said.

Preliminary results show that grouping soils for inherent climate and soil features and then measuring soil organic carbon, microbial respiration through a 24 hour CO2 test, and testing aggregate stability using a smartphone application called SLAKES, can tell us nearly as much about the soil’s ability to function to its potential as a more extensive suite of tests. Additional tests will be analyzed and potentially added to this base suite for quantification of each specific function.

For more information see our video below: