Response of soil bacterial communities to cropping systems, temporal changes, and environmental conditions in the northern Great Plains

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Montana State University - Bozeman, College of Agriculture


Soil bacterial communities are essential components of the soil ecosystem that support crop production. However, agriculture in semiarid drylands and their associated soil bacterial communities face increasingly warmer and drier conditions due to climate change. Two complementary studies were conducted to assess the response of soil bacterial communities to cropping systems, temporal changes, and soil temperature and moisture conditions in semiarid, dryland agricultural systems of the Northern Great Plains. The first study focused on soil bacterial community response to crop phase in contrasting cropping systems (chemical inputs and no-till, USDA-certified organic tilled, and USDA-certified organic sheep grazed) over a growing season. Organic grazed management supported more diverse bacterial communities than chemical no-till, though diversity in all systems decreased over the growing season. Organic grazed bacterial communities were distinct from those in the organic tilled and chemical no-till systems. An interaction between cropping system and crop phase affected community dissimilarity, indicating that overarching management systems and environmental conditions are influential on soil bacterial communities. The second study evaluated soil bacterial communities in a winter wheat - cover crop or fallow rotation. Observations were conducted in the summer fallow and two cover crop mixtures differing by species composition and phenologies, terminated by three different methods (chemical, grazing, or haying), and subjected to either induced warmer/drier or ambient soil conditions. Only the presence and composition of cover crops affected bacterial community dissimilarity, where mid-season soil bacterial communities were distinct from early season and fallow communities. Bacterial communities responded to an interaction between the presence and composition of cover crops and environmental conditions, but not termination. No treatment effects were observed in bacterial communities in 2019, which could be attributed to above average rainfall. The results of these studies suggest cover crop mixtures including species tolerant to warmer and drier conditions can foster diverse soil bacterial communities compared to fallow soils. Overall, these studies contribute to a better understanding of how soil bacterial communities respond to soil health building practices in the Northern Great Plains. Cropping systems can foster unique soil bacterial communities, but these effects may be moderated by environmental and temporal conditions.




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