The human population continues to grow exponentially. Societies worldwide are facing unique environmental and health challenges while paired with the threat of food shortages due to drastic reductions in arable land. Sustainable management practices will be vital to meet the demand for food production while reducing the agricultural environmental foot print.
Our research aims to identify best management practices that improve soil health for enhanced crop productivity, long-term soil fertility, and nutrient retention. We are especially interested in exploring the link between soil carbon and soil health as affected by above-ground management practices, such as cover crops, crop diversity, and perenniality. In addition, we will study the relationship between enhanced soil health and nitrogen retention to better inform management decisions and practices.
Our lab investigates how to use nematodes as indicators of soil biological health. Nematodes are particularly interesting to us because they are specialists. For example, some nematodes feed solely on bacteria, others feed solely on fungi, plant parasitic nematodes feed on plant roots, and other nematodes feed on each other. Lastly, there are a group of omnivores that change their feeding preferences based on what is available in a given ecosystem. Based on the ratio of these different types of nematodes, scientists can infer how mature a community is and make assumptions about overall ecosystem health. Nematodes are also quite responsive to perturbations and thus, certain ratios can indicate ecosystem disturbance. Given that nematodes can reflect trophic diversity and are quite responsive to management, we believe that they could serve as key indicators of soil health. Additionally, we’ve received substantial interest in nematodes from stakeholders across the Midwest given that many farmers would like access to soil health indicators that directly measure soil biota.