Incorporating Soil Health into Plant Community Restoration

The success of prairie and woodland restorations is typically assessed using measures of diversity and productivity of the aboveground plant community. However, this approach misses an important component to plant growth: the belowground system and its capacity to support productive ecosystems. The concept of soil quality includes assessment of soil properties (e.g. nutrients, texture) and processes (e.g. microbial activity) as they relate to ability of soil to function effectively as a component of a healthy ecosystem. Our research addresses the effects of restoration and management practices on soil productivity with the goal of determining a minimum set of indicators that can be used restoration practitioners to improve adaptive management practices.

Our studies are undertaken on a series of space for time restoration series known as the '100 Sites for 100 Years' project. This series comprises sites that have: i) not been restored; ii) been restored for less than 7 years; iii) been restored for more than 10 years; and iv) remnant prairies or woodlands that have never been disturbed. Our results to date indicate that organic matter is not always being added to long-term carbon reservoirs over time, and thus an increasing time since restoration does not do not always result in carbon sequestration. Instead, soil carbon storage depends on the interactions between soil nutrient levels, texture, and microbial activity.  We have also discovered that decomposition of plant materials (litter) varies across sites and is linked to a site's soil microbial community not the age of the restoration.

Students: Umek