Microbial biomass and nutrient dynamics during decomposition of cover crop mixtures

S.M. Drost

Research output: Contribution to conferencePosterScientific

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Sustainable agriculture is needed to reduce losses of soil organic matter (SOM) and to ensure crop production with a minimum of negative impact on the environment. Cover crops, planted in the fallow season, are commonly used to improve soil functions, such as soil structure, nutrient cycling, pathogen suppression and increasing SOM. Incorporation of cover crops in the soil in spring can increase the microbial biomass and activity. It is expected that turnover of the microbial community has a significant influence on nutrient dynamics in the soil. This can increase the nutrient availability and SOM.
The functional characteristics and stoichiometry of cover crops vary. The hypothesis is that cover crop mixtures with different functional traits will increase the belowground diversity by creating more niches in the soil leading to increased microbial functional diversity. We expect that this will result in more balanced nutrient dynamics with a more gradual delivery of nutrients to the cash crop, reduced leaching and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. The microbial community changes will depend on the quality of the incorporated cover crop remainders. We expect that cover crop diversity will lead to increased microbial biomass. This will increase nutrient availability due to increased nutrient uptake by the microbes followed by release of plant available nutrients as a result of turnover of the microbial community.
To understand microbial turnover during litter decomposition, a pot experiment with litter of cover crop monocultures and mixtures will be used. During decomposition, the microbial biomass, GHG emissions and nutrient content will be measured over time. Preliminary results showed that the microbial community is active directly after litter incorporation in the pots. Further study is needed to determine if the turnover of the microbial biomass will indeed increase SOM and nutrient availability in the soil which can result in increased yield of the cash crop, leading to more sustainable agriculture.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 08 Nov 2016


  • Microbial ecology
  • Agriculture
  • Decomposition
  • SOM


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