Concluding Remarks

There are many other factors that influence diversity and function in agricultural soils. Greater diversity and later successional communities of soil fauna such as nematodes are found in soils with perennial crops compared with soils with annual crops (Ferris and Ferris, 1974; Wasilewska, 1979; Freckman and Ettema, 1993; Neher and Campbell, 1994). Root growth is more extensive and less ephemeral with perennial than with annual crops. Differences between soils with perennial (e.g., meadow fescue Festuca pratensis L.) and annual (e.g., barley) crops may be less pronounced for perennial crops younger than 3 years old than more mature crops (Bostrom and Sohlenius, 1986).

In fields where annual crops are grown, the diversity of soil fauna is increased with management practices such as crop rotation, polycultures, crop mixtures, trap crops, and intercropping. For example, populations of oribatid (cryptostigmatid) and prostigmatid mites and springtails were greater in soils with crop rotation than without (Andren and Lagerlof, 1983). However, diversity of nematode communities in soils in intercropping systems of yellow squash (Cucurbita pepo L.) and cucumber (Cucumis sativa L.) with alfalfa (Medicago sativa L.) or hairy indigo (Indigofera hirsuta L.) were not greater consistently than monocultures (Powers et al., 1993). The lack of consistent difference in diversity was attributed to fluctuations in diversity occurring within the growing season. Further studies are needed to elucidate the role of faunal diversity in soils with heterogeneous cropping systems.

Agricultural systems are complex, and most research studies have focused on single factors in an effort to reveal underlying mechanisms. This results in a lack of understanding of how multiple environmental and biotic factors interact to affect soil biodiversity and function. As interest in reducing fossil fuel-based inputs increases, reliance on natural cycles and processes will increase. We should allow the soil to work for us and not work against it (Elliott and Coleman, 1988). More research is needed to determine the impact of multiple and interacting management practices on biodiversity, nutrient cycling, pest populations, and plant productivity. With this information, we can maximize our ability to tailor agricultural practices to optimize crop productivity while positively affecting beneficial soil organisms and the functions they perform.

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