Exploring the Effects of Prairie Restoration Management on Soil Microbial Carbon Storage
Integrating restored prairies into agricultural landscapes has emerged as a strategy for providing key ecosystem services like increasing biodiversity, reducing erosion and runoff, and supporting pollinator communities. These prairies can also act as valuable soil carbon sinks, though they often fall short of their carbon storage potential. The proposed work aims to help farmers maximize carbon storage on their land by examining the influence of prairie management choices on soil microbial carbon dynamics, asking how prairie size and seed mix richness influence soil microbial carbon use efficiency and what this means for total soil carbon stores. It leverages a suite of restored prairies at the Kellogg Biological Station in southwest Michigan and utilizes a novel approach to assessing carbon dynamics in restored ecosystems.
Our goals for Learning Outcomes are to increase stakeholder awareness of the benefits of establishing prairie plantings in agricultural systems, knowledge of the trade-offs associated with different prairie management techniques, and appreciation for the importance of soil microbial communities to soil carbon storage. Our goals for Action Outcomes are to increase stakeholder openness to installing prairies on their farms and to considering belowground-minded management. We will partner with the Soil Health Nexus and MiSTRIPS groups to reach local stakeholders in 2023 to assess farmer interests, questions, and concerns regarding integrating restored prairies into active farmland. In 2024, informed by these conversations, we will present the results of our work to these groups and create a decision-making tool to share with managers. We will evaluate success of our outcome goals using pre- and post-presentation surveys. We will continue to disseminate our results by submitting articles to academic and farmer-focused publications and presenting at local and national scientific conferences.
Increasing soil carbon in agricultural systems has the potential to restore soil carbon stores lost through the transition to cropland and to offset ongoing agricultural greenhouse gas emissions. This work is particularly relevant with the Conservation Reserve Program’s recent addition of extra incentives for Climate-Smart Practices, including increasing carbon sequestration. By filling a key knowledge gap in managing for maximized soil carbon storage, this work can inform climate change mitigation efforts and thus contribute to increased environmental quality and quality of life in agricultural systems and beyond.
Project objectives from proposal:
Learning Outcomes: After presenting our results to local stakeholders and the larger scientific community, I expect both audiences will have an increased awareness of the benefits of establishing prairie plantings in agricultural systems and increased knowledge of the trade-offs associated with different prairie management techniques. I also anticipate that both audiences will have an increased appreciation for the importance of soil microbial communities to soil health – specifically, to soil carbon dynamics.
Action Outcomes: After attending our summary presentation or reading our educational materials, I anticipate land managers will have increased openness to installing prairies on their farms and increased openness to considering belowground-minded management.