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Soil microbial diversity and activity linked to crop yield and quality in a dryland organic wheat production system

Nicole E. Tautges, Tarah S. Sullivan, Catherine L. Reardon, Ian C. Burke
Applied soil ecology 2016 v.108 pp. 258-268
Pisum sativum, Triticum aestivum, arid lands, bacterial communities, biodiversity, community structure, correlation, cropping systems, enzyme activity, fungal communities, fungi, grain yield, microbial activity, nitrogen, organic foods, organic production, peas, plant tissues, soil, soil enzymes, soil fertility, soil microorganisms, soil organic carbon, soil quality, winter wheat
One of the primary goals of organic agriculture is increasing soil quality through the enhancement of soil biological diversity and activity. Greater soil microbial activity and diversity increase soil organic matter turnover and contribute to soil fertility, one of the main challenges associated with organic management. The objectives of this study were to 1) compare soil microbial abundance and activity between organic and conventional cropping systems, and 2) explore connections between soil microbial community indicators and crop productivity in organic and conventional winter wheat (Triticum aestivum)/spring wheat/winter pea (Pisum sativum) rotations. Soil and plant tissue was sampled following six years of organic and conventional management, and soil was analyzed for microbial abundance and activity. Fungal and bacterial abundance, soil enzyme activity, and soil organic carbon (C) were greater in the organic system than in the conventional system, and all four measures were positively correlated. Community-level physiological profiling (CLPP) indicated that C substrate utilization was greater in the organic than in the conventional system, though bacterial T-RFLP data did not demonstrate different community structure between systems, suggesting that management type affected bacterial community function, but not structure. Fungal T-RFLP results indicated that fungal community structure was different between the organic and conventional systems. Hay yield and tissue nitrogen (N) were greater in the organic system, and were positively correlated with fungal and bacterial abundance, but grain yield and protein were greater in the conventional system. The results of this study indicate that management type (organic vs. conventional) has implications for microbial abundance and microbial community function, and that differences in soil microbial abundance and activity likely impact crop yields and N uptake.