Theses and Dissertations

ORCID

https://orcid.org/0000-0003-1294-2145

Issuing Body

Mississippi State University

Advisor

Baker, Beth

Committee Member

Brooks, John P.

Committee Member

Locke, Martin A.

Committee Member

Morin, Dana J.

Committee Member

Brown-Johnson, Ashli

Date of Degree

5-13-2022

Document Type

Dissertation - Campus Access Only

Major

Forest Resources

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D)

College

College of Forest Resources

Department

Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Aquaculture

Abstract

The transition of natural landscapes to intensive agricultural uses has resulted in severe loss of soil organic carbon (SOC), increased CO₂ emissions, river depletion, and groundwater overdraft. Despite negative documented effects of agricultural land use (i.e., soil erosion, nutrient runoff) on critical natural resources (i.e., water, soil), food production must increase to meet the demands of a rising human population. Given the environmental and agricultural productivity concerns of intensely managed soils, it is critical to implement conservation practices that mitigate the negative effects of crop production and enhance environmental integrity. In the Mississippi Alluvial Valley (MAV) region of Mississippi, USA, the adoption of cover crop (CC) and no-tillage (NT) management practices has been low because of a lack of research specific to the regional nuances. Therefore, this study assessed the long-term soil physiochemical and biological responses from integrating CC and NT management to agricultural soils of the region. Research plots were established in a split-block design with two tillage treatments: NT and reduced tillage (RT) and three CC treatments: no cover (NC), rye (RY) and a rye+clover (RC) mix. Soil samples were taken during the growing season of 2019 and 2020. Bulk density was found to be significantly lower in NT plots and aggregate stability was greatest in plots with a single CC species. Moisture retention increased in NT.. Soil organic carbon was greater in NT and CC treatments and there was no difference in CO₂ flux. Bacterial abundance had a positive effect on SOC but a negative effect on CO₂. The rate of proportional change and pattern of variability in C pools suggested loss of SOC in reduced tillage (RT) treatments. Microbial abundance, functional genes and enzyme activity was greater in NT with CC, but diversity was greater in RT. No-tillage practices lower diversity and influence long-term community changes while CC practices enact a seasonal response to environmental conditions. I conclude that in heavy clay soils of the mid-South region of the MAV, RT with a CC is optimal for soil health traits associated with crop sustainability, however the management will still contribute to increased CO₂ emissions.

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