U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government

Dot gov

Official websites use .gov
A .gov website belongs to an official government organization in the United States.


Secure .gov websites use HTTPS
A lock ( ) or https:// means you’ve safely connected to the .gov website. Share sensitive information only on official, secure websites.


Main content area

An evaluation of biological soil health indicators in four long‐term continuous agroecosystems in Canada

Lumarie Pérez‐Guzmán, Lori A. Phillips, Brent J. Seuradge, Ikechukwu Agomoh, Craig F. Drury, Verónica Acosta‐Martínez
Agrosystems, geosciences & environment 2021 v.4 no.2 pp. e20164
Glycine max, Zea mays, agroecosystems, corn, environment, enzymes, fatty acid methyl esters, models, perennial grasses, silage, soil, soil organic matter, soil quality, soybeans, sustainable agriculture, total nitrogen, vesicular arbuscular mycorrhizae, Ontario
The soil microbial community (SMC) and soil organic matter (SOM) are inherently related and are sensitive to land‐use changes. Microorganisms regulate essential soil functions that are key to SOM dynamics, whereas SOM dynamics define the SMC. To expand our understanding of soil health, we evaluated biological and SOM indicators in long‐term (18‐yr) continuous silage corn (Zea mays L.), continuous soybean [Glycine max (L.) Merr.], and perennial grass ecosystems in Ontario, Canada. The SMC was evaluated via ester‐linked fatty acid methyl ester (EL‐FAME) and amplicon sequencing. Soil organic matter was evaluated via a new combined enzyme assay that provides a single biogeochemical cycling value for C, N, P, and S cycling activity (CNPS), as well as loss‐on‐ignition, permanganate oxidizable C (POXC), and total C and N. Overall, soil health indicators followed the trend of grasses > corn > soybean. Grass systems had up to 8.1 times more arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi, increased fungal/bacteria ratios (via EL‐FAME), and higher microbial diversity (via sequencing). The POXC was highly variable within treatments and did not significantly differ between systems. The novel CNPS activity assay, however, was highly sensitive to management (up to 2.2 and 3.2 times higher under grasses than corn and soybean, respectively) and was positively correlated (ρ > .92) to SOM, total C, and total N. Following the “more is better” model, where higher values of the measured parameters indicate a healthier soil, our study showed decreased soil health under monocultures, especially soybean, and highlights the need to implement sustainable agriculture practices that maintain soil health.