- Agronomic: general hay and forage crops, grass (misc. perennial), hay
- Animal Production: feed/forage, grazing management, grazing - continuous, grazing - rotational
- Education and Training: on-farm/ranch research, participatory research
- Natural Resources/Environment: biodiversity
- Production Systems: agroecosystems
- Soil Management: soil analysis, soil microbiology
Soil resilience is a concept deemed important in our understanding of soil quality and sustainability and is thought to be facilitated by functional diversity of soil biota. While the diversity of microorganisms in soils is thought to be high, some management practices, such as conventional tillage, can deteriorate soil physical properties, and bring about a decline in total microbial biomass. Our understanding of the impacts of human activities, including grazing, is important to our understanding of the role microorganisms play in soil processes and maintenance of soil quality. To better understand the potential of ecosystems to respond to disturbance, more information on microbial community and functional group composition, abundance, and their distribution within soils is necessary. While the impact of livestock production practices on aboveground biomass is well studied, their impacts on belowground heterotrophic communities are not. I will assess microbial biomass, composition and diversity under 4 pasture management treatments–management-intensive rotational grazing, continuous grazing, harvesting for hay, and a no disturbance control–on 8 southern Wisconsin farms. I will use a modified Phospholipid Fatty Acid/Fatty Acid Methyl Ester Analysis, which provides accurate estimates of viable microbial biomass as well as distinct fingerprints for microbial diversity. Results will improve our understanding of how pasture management affects soil quality, which is important not only for livestock production, but also to support adoption of more sustainable perennial grassland agroecosystems.
Project objectives from proposal:
Expected short-term outcomes:
Under 4 pasture management treatments I will:
1) quantify total microbial biomass, fungal:bacterial ratios, microbial community composition and functional diversity, and
2) compare variability of response variables among pasture management treatments within and across 8 grazing farms.
Information generated from this research will expand the knowledge base about management effects on pasture ecosystems giving farmers, agencies, and policy makers a better understanding of the links between soil, water, air, and biotic resources, which will assist in making management decisions. Furthermore, this research will foster greater understanding between researchers and farmer/producers.
Improved management of grazed pastures will optimize the tradeoff inherent between livestock production and environmental stewardship. Such an optimization will result in more sustainable farming, which should lead to more vital rural communities.