Indicators and trade-offs of ecosystem services in agricultural soils along a landscape heterogeneity gradient

Alwyn Williams, Katarina Hedlund

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

25 Scopus citations

Abstract

Soil functions can be classified as supporting (nutrient cycling) and provisioning (crop production) ecosystem services (ES). These services consist of multiple and dynamic functions and are typically assessed using indicators, e.g. microbial biomass as an indicator of supporting services. Agricultural intensification negatively affects indicators of soil functions and is therefore considered to deplete soil ES. It has been suggested that incorporating leys into crop rotations can enhance soil ES. We examined this by comparing indicators of supporting soil services – organic carbon, nitrogen, water holding capacity and available phosphorous (carbon storage and nutrient retention); net nitrogen mineralisation rate and microbial biomass (nutrient cycling and retention) – in barley fields, leys and permanent pastures along a landscape heterogeneity gradient (100, 500 and 1000 m radii). In addition, barley yields (provisioning service) were analysed against these indicators to identify trade-offs among soil services. Levels of most indicators did not differ between barley and ley fields and were consistently lower than in permanent pastures. Leys supported greater microbial biomass than barley fields. Landscape heterogeneity had no effect on the indicators or microbial community composition. However, landscape heterogeneity correlated negatively with yield and soil pH, suggesting that soils in heterogeneous landscapes are less fertile and therefore have lower yields. No trade-offs were found between increasing barley yield and the soil indicators. The results suggest that soil ES are determined at the field level, with little influence from the surrounding landscape, and that greater crop yields do not necessarily come at the expense of supporting soil services.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-8
JournalApplied Soil Ecology
Volume77
DOIs
StatePublished - 2014

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