06 Nov 2023
 | 06 Nov 2023
Status: this preprint is open for discussion.

Shifts in controls and abundance of particulate and mineral-associated organic matter fractions among subfield yield stability zones

Sam J. Leuthold, Jocelyn M. Lavallee, Bruno Basso, William F. Brinton, and M. Francesca Cotrufo

Abstract. Spatiotemporal yield heterogeneity presents a significant challenge to agricultural sustainability efforts and can strain the economic viability of farming operations. Increasing soil organic matter (SOM) has been associated with increased crop productivity, as well as the mitigation of yield variability across time and space. Observations at the regional scale have indicated decreases in yield variability with increasing SOM, however the mechanisms by which this variability is reduced remain poorly understood, especially at the farm scale. To better understand the relationship between SOM and yield heterogeneity, we examined its distribution between particulate organic matter (POM) and mineral associated organic matter (MAOM), at the sub-field scale within 9 farms located in the central United States. We expected that the highest SOM concentrations would be found in stable, high-yielding zones, and that the SOM pool in these areas would have a higher proportion of POM relative to other areas in the field. In contrast to our predictions, we found that unstable yield areas had significantly higher SOM than stable yield areas, and that there was no significant difference in the relative contribution of POM to total SOM across different yield stability zones. Our results further indicate that MAOM abundance was primarily explained by interactions between crop productivity and edaphic properties such as texture, which varied amongst stability zones. However, we were unable to link POM abundance to soil properties or cropping system characteristics. Instead, we posit that POM dynamics in these systems may be controlled by differences in decomposition patterns between stable and unstable yield zones. Our results show that, at the subfield scale, increasing SOM may not directly confer increased yield stability. Instead, in fields with high spatiotemporal yield heterogeneity, SOM stocks may be determined by interactive effects of topography, weather, and soil characteristics on crop productivity and SOM decomposition. These findings suggest that POM has the potential to be a useful indicator of yield stability, with higher POM stocks in unstable zones, and highlights the need to consider these factors during soil sampling campaigns, especially when attempting to quantify farm-scale soil C stocks. 

Sam J. Leuthold et al.

Status: open (until 31 Dec 2023)

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Sam J. Leuthold et al.

Sam J. Leuthold et al.


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Short summary
We examined physical soil organic matter fractions to understand their relationship to temporal variability in crop yield at the field scale. We found that interactions between crop productivity, topography, and climate led to variability in soil organic matter stocks among different yield stability zones. Our results imply linkages between soil organic matter and yield stability may be scale-dependent, and that particulate organic matter may be an indicator of unstable areas within croplands.