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Microbial community dynamics in long-term no-till and conventionally tilled soils of the Canadian prairies



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Adoption of no-till (NT) and reduced tillage management is widespread on the Canadian prairies and together form the basic platform of soil management upon which most crop production is based. Elimination of tillage in cropping systems changes the physical and chemical characteristics of the soil profile and can affect crop growth and ultimately yield. As such, understanding how soil biota, as drivers of nutrient turnover, adapt to NT is important for maximizing crop productivity and mitigating environmental damage in agroecosystems. This work aims to achieve a greater understanding of microbial community structure and function in long-term NT versus conventionally tilled (CT) soils. Community phospholipid and DNA fingerprinting did not reveal any consistent tillage-induced shifts in microbial community structure, but demonstrated a clear influence of depth within the soil profile. While tillage did not result in broad changes in the community structure, total, bacterial and fungal biomass was consistently greater near the surface of NT soils. Further examination at one site near Swift Current, SK revealed differences in microbial biomass and community structure in NT and CT in field-formed aggregate size fractions. Measurement of mineralization and nitrification at the same site indicated that differences in the early-season turnover of N may be related to physical rather than microbial differences in NT and CT soils. Potential nitrification was higher prior to seeding than mid-season, was not affected by tillage and was correlated with ammonia oxidizer population size of archaea, but not bacteria. This work indicates that edaphic soil properties and spatial distribution of resources in the soil profile, rather than tillage management, are the primary factors driving microbial community structure in these soils.



DNA fingerprint, long-term experiment, microbial functional groups, microbial community, tillage, phospholipid fatty acid analysis



Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)


Soil Science


Soil Science



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