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  1. CHAPTER 11 Soil: The Foundation for Land Ecosystems

  2. An introduction to soil and agriculture Some farmers follow the five golden rules of the tropics Keep soil covered Use minimal or no tillage Use mulch to provide nutrients to the soil Maximize biomass production Maximize biodiversity Harvests have increased dramatically Farmer experimenters experiment and educate others, leading to sustainable agriculture

  3. The Russian desert Southeastern Russia has undergone severe desertification Stable rolling grasslands have become drifting sands Deserts are growing by thousands of acres annually Failed communist agricultural policies Plowing the thin soil for crops Grazing sheep with sharp hooves that broke the soil The sand has buried over 25 towns Building barriers and planting vegetation help limit moving sand and reclaim degraded land

  4. Desertification in China

  5. Past neglect 90% of all food comes from land-based agriculture Oceans and natural systems are being depleted Protecting and nurturing soil is the cornerstone of food production and sustainability But it has been overlooked repeatedly The Greek, Roman, and Mayan empires collapsed The result of decreased agricultural productivity Brought on by soil erosion Plowing the prairie and drought caused the U.S. Dust Bowl

  6. Asking more of the land Increased population pressures croplands and grazing lands to increase production 15% of Earth’s land was degraded in 1991 Now, land degradation is even worse 20% of cultivated land, 30% of forests, 10% of grasslands were degraded between 1981 and 2003 Soils are degraded by erosion, salt buildup, and other problems Future productivity is undermined

  7. A rich soil is much more than dirt Soil: solid material of geological and biological origin Chemical, biological, and physical processes change soil Giving it the ability to support plant growth In productive soil, detritus feeders and decomposers constitute a biotic community Facilitating the transfer of nutrients Creating a soil environment favorable to root growth Productive topsoil involves dynamic interactions among organisms, detritus, and mineral particles of the soil

  8. Topsoil formation

  9. Soil formation Animation: Soil Formatioin

  10. Soil characteristics Most soils are hundreds of years old They change very slowly Soil science is at the heart of agriculture and forestry Soil is classified by profile, structure, and type Soil texture: relative proportions of each soil type Parent material: mineral material of the soil Soil has its origin in the geological history of an area Weathering: gradual physical and chemical breakdown of parent material It may be impossible to tell what the parent material was

  11. Classification of soil Soil separates: small fragments smaller than stones Sand: particles from 2.0 to 0.063 mm Silt: particles range from 0.063 to 0.004 mm Clay: anything finer than 0.004 mm Gravel, cobbles, boulders: particles larger than sand You can see the individual rock particles in sand Clay particles become suspended in water Clay is “gooey” because particles slide around each other on a film of water

  12. Soil makeup Animation: Soil Makeup

  13. Proportions Sand, silt, and clay constitute the mineral part of soil If one type of particle predominates, the soil is sandy, silty, or clayey Loam: a soil with 40% sand, 40% silt, and 20% clay To determine a soil’s texture: Add soil and water to a test tube and let the soil settle Sand particles settle first, then silt, then clay Scientists classify soil texture with a triangle It shows relative proportions of sand, silt, and clay

  14. The soil texture triangle

  15. Properties Soil properties are influenced by its texture Larger particles have larger spaces separating them Small particles have more surface area relative to their volume Nutrient ions and water molecules cling to surfaces These properties profoundly affect soil properties Infiltration, nutrient- and water-holding capacity, aeration Workability: the ease with which soil can be cultivated Clay soils are hard to work with: too sticky or too hard Sandy soils are easy to work with

  16. Soil profiles Horizons: horizontal layers of soil from soil formation Can be quite distinct Soil profile: a vertical slice through the soil horizons Reveals the interacting factors in soil formation O horizon: topmost layer of soil Dead organic matter (detritus) deposited by plants High in organic content Primary source of energy for the soil community Humus: decomposed dark material at the bottom of the O horizon

  17. Subsurface layers A horizon (topsoil): below the O horizon A mixture of mineral soil and humus Permeated by fine roots Usually dark May be shallow or thick Vital to plant growth Grows an inch or two every hundred years E horizon: pale-colored layer below the A horizon Eluviation: process of leaching (dissolving) minerals due to downward movement of water

  18. Subsurface layers B horizon (subsoil):below the E horizon Contains minerals leached from the A and E horizons High in iron, aluminum, calcium, other minerals, clay Reddish or yellow colored from oxidized metals C horizon: parent mineral material Weathered rock, glacial deposits, volcanic ash Reveals geologic process that created the landscape Not affected by biological or chemical processes

  19. Soil profile

  20. Soil classification Soil comes in an almost infinite variety of structures and textures Soils are classified by: Order: the most inclusive group Suborder, groups, subgroups, families Class: best corresponds to the soil in question Four major soil orders most important for agriculture, animal husbandry and forestry: Mollisols, oxisols, alfisols, aridisols

  21. Global map of soil orders

  22. Important soil orders Mollisols: fertile, dark soils of temperate grasslands The world’s best agricultural soils Midwest U.S., Ukraine, Mongolia, Argentinian pampas Deep A horizon; rich in humus and minerals With less precipitation, minerals don’t leach downward Oxisols: soils of tropical and subtropical rain forests The B horizon has a layer of iron and aluminum oxides Little O horizon: rapid decomposition of vegetation Limited agriculture: minerals are in living plant matter Leached minerals form a hardpan, resisting cultivation

  23. Two more important soil orders Alfisols: widespread, moderately weathered forest soils Well-developed O, A, E, and B horizons Typical of moist, temperate forests Suitable for agriculture if they are fertilized Aridisols: soils of drylands (arid, semiarid, and seasonally dry areas) and deserts Unstructured due to lack of vegetation and precipitation Thin, light colored Some areas may support rangeland animal husbandry Irrigation leads to salinization

  24. Soil and plant growth For best growth, plants need a root environment that supplies Mineral nutrients, water, oxygen The proper pH and salinity Soil fertility: the soil’s ability to support plant growth The presence of proper amounts of nutrients and all other needs Farmers refer to a soil’s ability to support plant growth as tilth

  25. Mineral nutrients Initially become available through rock weathering Phosphate, potassium, calcium, etc. Much too slow to support normal plant growth Breakdown and release (recycling) of detritus provides most nutrients Leaching: nutrients are washed from the soil by water Decreases soil fertility Contributes to water pollution Nutrient-holding capacity: the soil’s capacity to bind and hold nutrient ions until they are absorbed by roots

  26. Fertilizer Agriculture removes nutrients from the soil Fertilizer: nutrients added to replace those that are lost Organic fertilizer: plant or animal wastes or both Manure, compost (rotted organic material) Leguminous fallow crops (alfalfa, clover) Food crops (lentils, peas) Inorganic fertilizer: chemical formulations of nutrients Lacks organic matter Much more prone to leaching

  27. Water is crucial for plants Transpiration: water is absorbed by roots and exits as water vapor through pores (stomata; singular = stoma) in the leaves Oxygen enters, and carbon dioxide exits, through stomata Loss of water through stomata can be dramatic Wilting: a plant’s response to lack of water Conserves water Shuts off photosynthesis by closing stomata Severe or prolonged wilting can kill plants

  28. Transpiration

  29. Water and water-holding capacity Water is resupplied to the soil by rainfall or irrigation Infiltration: water soaks into the soil Water runoff is useless to plants and may cause erosion Water-holding capacity: soil’s ability to hold water after it infiltrates Poor holding capacity: water percolates below root level Plants must depend on rains or irrigation Sandy soils Evaporative water loss depletes soil of water The O horizon reduces water loss by covering the soil

  30. Plant-soil-water relationship

  31. Aeration Novice gardeners kill plants by overwatering (drowning) Roots must breathe to obtain oxygen for energy Land plants depend on loose, porous soil Soil aeration: allows diffusion of oxygen into, and carbon dioxide out of, the soil Overwatering fills air spaces Compaction: packing of the soil Due to excessive foot or vehicular traffic Reduces infiltration and runoff Strongly influenced by soil texture

  32. Relative acidity (pH) pH refers to the acidity or alkalinity of any solution The pH scale runs from 1 to 14 7 is neutral (neither acidic or alkaline) Different plants are adapted to different pH ranges Most do best with a pH near neutral Many plants do better with acidic or alkaline soils Blueberries do best in acidic soils

  33. Salt and water uptake Buildup of salt in the soil makes it impossible for roots to take in water High enough salt levels can draw water out of a plant By osmosis Dehydrates and kills plants Only specially adapted plants grow in saline soils None of them are crops Irrigation can lead to salt buildup in soil (salinization)

  34. The soil community To support plants, soils must Have nutrients and good nutrient-holding capacity Allow infiltration and have good water-holding capacity Resist evaporative water loss Have a porous structure that allows aeration Have a near-neutral pH Have low salt content According to the principle of limiting factors, the poorest attribute is the limiting factor

  35. Limiting factors in plant growth Sandy soils dry out too quickly to be good for agriculture They have poor water-holding capacity Clay soils do not allow infiltration or aeration The best soils are silts and loams They moderate limiting factors Soil texture limitations are improved by the organic parts of the soil ecosystem Detritus Soil organisms

  36. Organisms and organic matter in the soil Dead leaves, roots, other detritus on and in the soil Support a complex food web Bacteria, fungi, mites, insects, millipedes, spiders, earthworms, snails, slugs, moles, etc. Millions of bacteria are in a gram of soil Humus: residue of partly decomposed organic matter In high concentrations at the bottom of the O layer Extraordinary capacity for holding water and nutrients Composting: fosters decay of organic wastes Is essentially humus

  37. Soil as a detritus-based ecosystem

  38. Soil bacteria

  39. Soil structure and topsoil Animals feeding on detritus also ingest mineral soil particles Castings: earthworm excrement of stable clumps of “glued” inorganic particles plus humus Burrowing of animals keeps clumps loose Soil structure: refers to the arrangement of soil particles Soil texture: refers to the size of soil particles A loose soil structure: best for infiltration, aeration, and workability Topsoil: clumpy, loose, humus-rich soil Loss of topsoil reduces crop yield by 85–90%

  40. Humus and the development of soil structure

  41. The results of removing topsoil

  42. Interactions between plants and soil biota Mycorrhizae: a symbiotic relationship between the roots of some plants and certain fungi Fungi draw nourishment from the roots Fungi penetrate the detritus, absorb nutrients, and pass them to the plant Nutrients are not lost to leaching Bacteria add nitrogen to the soil Nematodes: small worms that feed on roots Detrimental to plants May be controlled by other soil organisms (e.g., fungi)

  43. Predatory fungus

  44. Soil enrichment Most detritus comes from green plants So green plants support soil organisms Soil organisms create the chemical and physical soil environment beneficial to plants Green plants further protect the soil by reducing erosion and evaporative water loss So keep an organic mulch around garden vegetables The mutually supportive relationship between plants and soil is easily broken Keeping topsoil depends on addition of detritus

  45. Mineralization If detritus is lost, soil organisms starve Soil will no longer be kept loose and nutrient-rich Humus decomposes, breaking down the clumpy aggregate structure of glued soil particles Water- and nutrient-holding capacities, infiltration, and aeration decline Mineralization: loss of humus and collapse of topsoil All that remains are the minerals (sand, silt, clay) Topsoil results from balancing detritus and humus additions and breakdown

  46. The importance of humus to topsoil

  47. Soil degradation Turnover of plant material produces detritus When humans cut forests, graze livestock, or plant crops, the soil is managed or mismanaged Soil degradation: occurs when key soil attributes required for plant growth or other ecosystem services deteriorate Some reports on soil degradation are incorrect or outdated 75% of the land in Burkina Faso was said to be degraded But agricultural yields have increased due to soil and water conservation

  48. LADA The Land Degradation Assessment in Drylands Part of the UN’s Food and Agricultural Organization Land degradation: a reduction in the capacity of land to perform ecosystem functions and services that support society and development Hot spots: regions that are worsening 24% of global land area worsened between 1981 and 2003 South Africa: 29% of land is degraded Poor management Bright spots: regions that are improving (16% of land area)

  49. Land degradation and population in South Africa

  50. Erosion Erosion: the process of soil and humus particles being picked up and carried away by water and wind Occurs any time soil is bared and exposed Soil removal may be slow and gradual (e.g., by wind) or dramatic (e.g., gullies formed by a single storm) Vegetative cover prevents erosion from water Reducing the energy of raindrops Allowing slow infiltration Grass is excellent for erosion control Vegetation also slows wind velocity