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Quantifying soil health in a topographically diverse warm-season perennial pasture over-seeded with a mix of cool-season annuals

Bridges, Kathleen M., Fultz, Lisa M., Alison, Montgomery W., Han, Kun-Jun, Macoon, Bisoondat, Pitman, William D.
Agriculture, ecosystems & environment 2019 v.282 pp. 58-68
Actinobacteria, Avena sativa, Brassica rapa, Gram-positive bacteria, Lolium multiflorum, Paspalum notatum, Raphanus sativus, Trifolium incarnatum, Trifolium nigrescens, Trifolium pratense, Triticosecale, Vicia villosa, annuals, beta-glucosidase, carbon, cattle, cold season, community structure, enzyme activity, fatty acid methyl esters, forage, grazing, grazing management, hay, landscapes, mycorrhizal fungi, nitrate nitrogen, nitrogen, oats, pH, pasture management, pastures, radishes, soil organic matter, soil properties, soil quality, sowing, spring, topography, total nitrogen, triticale, turnips, vegetation, warm season, winter, Mississippi
Over-seeding cool-season annual forages in pastures in the southeastern US provides increased grazing opportunities for livestock and reduces the amount of hay needed during winter. The constant presence of vegetation can benefit soil health, the biological aspect of which has only received cursory investigation to date. Since 2009, a commercial cattle grazing operation located in south Mississippi has been over-seeding a diverse mixture of oats (Avena sativa L.), triticale (X Triticosecale Wittmack), annual ryegrass (Lolium multiflorum Lam.), hairy vetch (Vicia villosa Roth), radish (Raphanus sativus L.), turnips (Brassica rapa L. subsp. rapa), red clover (Trifolium pratense L.), ball clover (Trifolium nigrescens Viv.), and crimson clover (Trifolium incarnatum L.) into pastures dominated by bahiagrass (Paspalum notatum Flüggé). Soil health properties were assessed across a heterogeneous landscape from soils collected immediately prior to seeding and following increased spring productivity of cool-season annuals from 2015 to 2017. Samples were collected across a topographic sequence to a depth of 15 and 30 cm. Three samples per site were collected from summit, backslope, and footslope locations. Soil chemical assessments included macronutrients, pH, soil organic matter (SOM), total carbon (TC), and total nitrogen (TN). Fatty acid methyl ester analysis and enzyme assays were used to determine soil microbial community structure and activity. While TC and TN did not change with time (20.5 and 2.4 g kg−1, respectively), SOM increased by 6% from 2015 to 2017. Nitrate-N decreased by 82% from 2015 to 2017. N-acetyl-β-glucosaminidase activity increased by 32%, while β-glucosidase remained constant. Total microbial abundance did not change with time; however, Gram positive bacteria and actinomycetes decreased by 51% and 43%, respectively, from fall to spring. Arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi increased from fall to spring by an average of 45%. This pasture management technique of over-seeding a diverse mix of winter annuals may have resulted in a steady state of TC and TN, while SOM increased and inorganic nitrogen decreased with time, and enhanced the total soil microbial community particularly fungi and their potential enzyme activity. Despite some biological indications of system stability, soil properties potentially limiting to plant growth were identified for some sites, but these limitations were not closely related to topographic position as expected.