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Cover crop residue diversity enhances microbial activity and biomass with additive effects on microbial structure

Shu, X., Zou, Y., Shaw, L. J., Todman, L., Tibbett, M. and Sizmur, T. ORCID: (2021) Cover crop residue diversity enhances microbial activity and biomass with additive effects on microbial structure. Soil Research, 60 (4). pp. 349-359. ISSN 1838-675X

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To link to this item DOI: 10.1071/SR21105


Cover crops have been widely used in agroecosystems to improve soil fertility and environmental sustainability. The decomposition of cover crop residues can have further effects on belowground communities and their activity, which is important for a series of soil functions (e.g., nutrient cycling and organic matter decomposition). We tested the effect of plant residues from a range of cover crop species on soil microbial activity and community assemblage. We predicted that cover crop residues would alter the soil microbial community and that a greater diversity of residues would enhance microbial decomposition. In an incubation study, we assessed the effect of crop residue diversity on microbial activity (soil respiration) and its consequent effects on microbial community composition (PLFA). We used either a biodiverse mixture of four cover crop residues (buckwheat, clover, sunflower, and radish) or an equal mass of the residues of each of the individual species. Cover crop residue incorporation significantly (P < 0.001) increased soil respiration during 84 days’ incubation and this universal response caused a significant change in microbial community composition by increasing the proportion of fungi and Gram-positive bacteria at the cost of decreasing Gram-negative bacteria. The diverse mixture of cover crop residues had a significantly (P < 0.05) greater soil respiration rate, by 57.61 µg C g-1 h-1, than the average of the four individual residues, but did not have a significantly different soil microbial biomass or microbial community structure. This finding could be attributed to a greater diversity of organic resources increasing the number biochemical niches, and hence activating dormant microbial communities to increase microbial activity without affecting microbial biomass or community composition. Greater respiration from similar microbial biomasses suggests that microbial activity might be more efficient after a more diverse substrate input. This study confirms the positive impact of cover crop residues on soil microbial biomass and activity and highlights that mixtures of cover crop residues may deliver enhanced soil functions beyond the sum of individual cover crop residues.

Item Type:Article
Divisions:Science > School of Archaeology, Geography and Environmental Science > Department of Geography and Environmental Science
Interdisciplinary centres and themes > Soil Research Centre
ID Code:100763
Publisher:CSIRO Publishing


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