Special Issue "Soil Erosion: A Major Threat to Food Production and the Environment"

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A special issue of Agriculture (ISSN 2077-0472).

Deadline for manuscript submissions: closed (1 October 2013)

Special Issue Editor

Guest Editor
Prof. Dr. David Pimentel

College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY 14853, USA
E-Mail
Phone: 607-255-2212
Fax: +1 607 255 0939
Interests: basic population ecology; genetics; ecological and economic aspects of pest control; biological control; energy use and conservation; genetic engineering; sustainable agriculture; soil and water conservation; natural resource management and environment

Special Issue Information

Dear Colleagues,

Soil erosion and degradation is one of the most serious environmental and public health problems facing human society today. Humans obtain more than 99.7% of their food from the land and less than 0.3% from the oceans and other aquatic ecosystems. Each year about 10 million ha of cropland are lost due to soil degradation, thus significantly reducing the cropland available for food production. The loss of cropland is a serious problem because the World Health Organization and the Food and Agricultural Organization jointly report more than 66% of the people are malnourished in the world. The United Nations reports that malnutrition is the number 1 cause of deaths in the world. Overall soil is being lost from land areas 10 to 40 times faster than the rate of soil renewal imperiling future human food security and the environment.

Prof. Dr. David Pimentel
Guest Editor

Submission

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Keywords

  • soil
  • water
  • wind
  • environment
  • erosion
  • food
  • nutrients

Published Papers (13 papers)

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Editorial

Jump to: Research, Review

Open AccessEditorial Casting a Wider Net: Understanding the “Root” Causes of Human-Induced Soil Erosion
Agriculture 2013, 3(4), 613-628; doi:10.3390/agriculture3040613
Received: 14 June 2013 / Revised: 15 August 2013 / Accepted: 27 August 2013 / Published: 25 September 2013
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Abstract
Although science has helped us to identify and measure the threat of soil erosion to food production, we need to cast a wider net for effective solutions. Honest assessment suggests, in fact, that this kind of eco-agri-cultural issue exceeds the traditional boundaries of
[...] Read more.
Although science has helped us to identify and measure the threat of soil erosion to food production, we need to cast a wider net for effective solutions. Honest assessment suggests, in fact, that this kind of eco-agri-cultural issue exceeds the traditional boundaries of scientific interest. The issue of soil erosion spills out so many ways that it demands a holistic interdisciplinary approach. In this paper we explore a systems “in context” approach to understanding soil erosion built upon the interplay of Aristotle’s virtues of episteme, techne, and phronesis. We model the synergy of collaboration, where diverse ways of knowing, learning and being in the world can offer proactive soil conservation strategies—those that occur from the inside-out—instead of reactive policies, from the outside-in. We show how positivist scientific attitudes could well impede conservation efforts insofar as they can inhibit educational pedagogies meant to reconnect us to nature. In so doing, we make the ultimate argument that disparate fields of knowledge have much to offer each other and that the true synergy in solutions to soil erosion will come from the intimate interconnectedness of these different ways of knowing, learning and being in the world. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Soil Erosion: A Major Threat to Food Production and the Environment)

Research

Jump to: Editorial, Review

Open AccessArticle Temporal Variation of SOC Enrichment from Interrill Erosion over Prolonged Rainfall Simulations
Agriculture 2013, 3(4), 726-740; doi:10.3390/agriculture3040726
Received: 5 July 2013 / Revised: 3 October 2013 / Accepted: 15 October 2013 / Published: 23 October 2013
Cited by 6 | PDF Full-text (2621 KB) | HTML Full-text | XML Full-text
Abstract
Sediment generated by interrill erosion is commonly assumed to be enriched in soil organic carbon (SOC) compared to the source soil. However, the reported SOC enrichment ratios (ERSOC) vary widely. It is also noteworthy that most studies reported that the ER
[...] Read more.
Sediment generated by interrill erosion is commonly assumed to be enriched in soil organic carbon (SOC) compared to the source soil. However, the reported SOC enrichment ratios (ERSOC) vary widely. It is also noteworthy that most studies reported that the ERSOC is greater than unity, while conservation of mass dictates that the ERSOC of sediment must be balanced over time by a decline of SOC in the source area material. Although the effects of crusting on SOC erosion have been recognized, a systematic study on complete crust formation and interrill SOC erosion has not been conducted so far. The aim of this study was to analyze the effect of prolonged crust formation and its variability on the ERSOC of sediment. Two silty loams were simultaneously exposed to a rainfall simulation for 6 h. The ERSOC in sediment from both soils increased at first, peaked around the point when steady-state runoff was achieved and declined afterwards. The results show that crusting plays a crucial role in the ERSOC development over time and, in particular, that the conservation of mass applies to the ERSOC of sediment as a consequence of crusting. A “constant” ERSOC of sediment is therefore possibly biased, leading to an overestimation of SOC erosion. The results illustrate that the potential off-site effects of selective interrill erosion require considering the crusting effects on sediment properties in the specific context of the interaction between soil management, rainfall and erosion. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Soil Erosion: A Major Threat to Food Production and the Environment)
Open AccessArticle Practicality of Biochar Additions to Enhance Soil and Crop Productivity
Agriculture 2013, 3(4), 715-725; doi:10.3390/agriculture3040715
Received: 25 August 2013 / Revised: 12 September 2013 / Accepted: 25 September 2013 / Published: 17 October 2013
Cited by 4 | PDF Full-text (407 KB) | HTML Full-text | XML Full-text
Abstract
The benefits of biochar to soils for agricultural purposes are numerous. Biochar may be added to soils with the intention to improve the soil, displace an amount of conventional fossil fuel based fertilizers, and sequester carbon. However, the variable application rates, uncertain feedstock
[...] Read more.
The benefits of biochar to soils for agricultural purposes are numerous. Biochar may be added to soils with the intention to improve the soil, displace an amount of conventional fossil fuel based fertilizers, and sequester carbon. However, the variable application rates, uncertain feedstock effects, and initial soil state provide a wide range of cost for marginally improved yield from biochar additions, which is often economically impracticable. The need for further clarity on optimizing biochar application to various crop yields is necessary if it is to gain widespread acceptance as a soil amendment. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Soil Erosion: A Major Threat to Food Production and the Environment)
Open AccessArticle Uncovering the Footprints of Erosion by On-Farm Maize Cultivation in a Hilly Tropical Landscape
Agriculture 2013, 3(3), 556-566; doi:10.3390/agriculture3030556
Received: 29 May 2013 / Revised: 22 June 2013 / Accepted: 2 September 2013 / Published: 18 September 2013
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Abstract
A hilly region in Sri Lanka was considered to be degraded by erosion driven by intensive tobacco production, but what are reliable indicators of erosion? In addition to determining soil chemical and physical traits, maize was cropped with Nitrogen, Phosphorus and Potassium (NPK,
[...] Read more.
A hilly region in Sri Lanka was considered to be degraded by erosion driven by intensive tobacco production, but what are reliable indicators of erosion? In addition to determining soil chemical and physical traits, maize was cropped with Nitrogen, Phosphorus and Potassium (NPK, PK) recommended mineral fertilization and without fertilizer (ZERO) in two major seasons(October–January in 2007/2008 and 2008/2009—Seasons 1 and 2 respectively) on 92 farms at inclinations ranging from 0% to 65%. In a subset of steep farms (n = 21) an A horizon of 6 cm rather than of 26 cm was strong proof of erosion above 30% inclination. Below the A level, the thickness of the horizon was unaffected by inclination. Soil organic matter contents (SOM) were generally low, more so at higher inclinations, probably due to greater erosion than at lower inclination. Maize yields decreased gradually with increasing inclination; at ZERO, effects of climate and soil moisture on yield were easier determined and were probably due to long-term erosion. However, despite an initial set of 119 farms, an exact metric classification of erosion was impossible. NPK strongly boosted yield. This was a positive sign that the deficits in chemical soil fertility were overriding physical soil weaknesses. The study illustrated that chemical soil fertility in these soils is easily amenable to modifications by mineral and organic manures. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Soil Erosion: A Major Threat to Food Production and the Environment)
Open AccessArticle Soil Erosion Threatens Food Production
Agriculture 2013, 3(3), 443-463; doi:10.3390/agriculture3030443
Received: 14 June 2013 / Revised: 20 July 2013 / Accepted: 23 July 2013 / Published: 8 August 2013
Cited by 9 | PDF Full-text (1031 KB) | HTML Full-text | XML Full-text
Abstract
Since humans worldwide obtain more than 99.7% of their food (calories) from the land and less than 0.3% from the oceans and aquatic ecosystems, preserving cropland and maintaining soil fertility should be of the highest importance to human welfare. Soil erosion is one
[...] Read more.
Since humans worldwide obtain more than 99.7% of their food (calories) from the land and less than 0.3% from the oceans and aquatic ecosystems, preserving cropland and maintaining soil fertility should be of the highest importance to human welfare. Soil erosion is one of the most serious threats facing world food production. Each year about 10 million ha of cropland are lost due to soil erosion, thus reducing the cropland available for world food production. The loss of cropland is a serious problem because the World Health Organization and the Food and Agricultural Organization report that two-thirds of the world population is malnourished. Overall, soil is being lost from agricultural areas 10 to 40 times faster than the rate of soil formation imperiling humanity’s food security. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Soil Erosion: A Major Threat to Food Production and the Environment)
Open AccessArticle Evaluating Alternative Methods of Soil Erodibility Mapping in the Mediterranean Island of Crete
Agriculture 2013, 3(3), 362-380; doi:10.3390/agriculture3030362
Received: 2 May 2013 / Revised: 17 June 2013 / Accepted: 25 June 2013 / Published: 4 July 2013
Cited by 2 | PDF Full-text (1751 KB) | HTML Full-text | XML Full-text
Abstract
Soil erodibility is among the trickiest erosion factors to estimate. This is especially true for heterogeneous Mediterranean environments, where reliable and dense soil data are rarely available, and interpolation methods give very low accuracies. Towards estimating soil erodibility, research so far has resulted
[...] Read more.
Soil erodibility is among the trickiest erosion factors to estimate. This is especially true for heterogeneous Mediterranean environments, where reliable and dense soil data are rarely available, and interpolation methods give very low accuracies. Towards estimating soil erodibility, research so far has resulted in several alternatives mainly based on empirical formulas, on physics-based equations or on inference with expertise. The aim of this work was to compare erodibility patterns derived by using the empirical United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) formula and by inference from a geological map in a Mediterranean agricultural site. The Kolymvari area, located in the western part of Crete, an area covered by olive groves and citrus orchards, was selected as the study site for this work. Comparison of the spatial patterns of soil erodibility derived from the two alternatives showed significant differences (i.e., a mean normalized difference value of 0.52), while a test of the “inference” alternative indicated very low accuracies (0.1475 RMS error). A comparison, however, of the spatial patterns of erosion values derived from both alternatives indicated that dissimilarities of the two soil erodibility maps faded out. Moreover, the highly risky areas provided by both alternatives were found to be identical for 88% of the whole study site. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Soil Erosion: A Major Threat to Food Production and the Environment)

Review

Jump to: Editorial, Research

Open AccessReview Olive Cultivation, its Impact on Soil Erosion and its Progression into Yield Impacts in Southern Spain in the Past as a Key to a Future of Increasing Climate Uncertainty
Agriculture 2014, 4(2), 170-198; doi:10.3390/agriculture4020170
Received: 30 December 2013 / Revised: 15 May 2014 / Accepted: 29 May 2014 / Published: 11 June 2014
Cited by 3 | PDF Full-text (2827 KB) | HTML Full-text | XML Full-text
Abstract
This article is intended as a review of the current situation regarding the impact of olive cultivation in Southern Spain (Andalusia) on soil degradation processes and its progression into yield impacts, due to diminishing soil profile depth and climate change in the sloping
[...] Read more.
This article is intended as a review of the current situation regarding the impact of olive cultivation in Southern Spain (Andalusia) on soil degradation processes and its progression into yield impacts, due to diminishing soil profile depth and climate change in the sloping areas where it is usually cultivated. Finally, it explores the possible implications in the regional agricultural policy these results might have. It tries to show how the expansion and intensification of olive cultivation in Andalusia, especially since the late 18th century, had as a consequence an acceleration of erosion processes that can be identified by several indicators and techniques. Experimental and model analysis indicates that the rate of soil erosion accelerated since the expansion of mechanization in the late 1950s. In addition, that unsustainable erosion rates have prevailed in the region since the shift to a more intense olive cultivation systems by the end of the 17th Century. Although agroenvironmental measures implemented since the early 2000s have reduced erosion rates, they are still unsustainably high in a large fraction of the olive area in the region. In the case of olive orchards located in steeper areas with soils of lower water-holding capacity (due to coarse texture and stone content), cumulative erosion has already had a high impact on reducing their potential productivity. This is one of the factors that contributes towards increasing the gap between these less intensified orchards in the mountainous areas and those in the hilly areas with more gentle slopes, such as for instance the lower stretches of the Guadalquivir River Valley. In the case of olive orchards in the hilly areas with better soils, easier access to irrigation and lower production costs per unit, the efforts on soil conservation should be oriented towards limiting off-site damage, since the soil water-storage function of these soils may be preserved in the medium term even at the current soil erosion rates. The assessment made in this manuscript should be regarded as an initial approximation, since additional efforts in terms of increasing experimental records (for current or historical erosion) and of improving model analysis, with more comprehensive studies and more robust calibration and validation processes, are required. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Soil Erosion: A Major Threat to Food Production and the Environment)
Figures

Open AccessReview Managing Soil Erosion in Northern Ireland: A Review of Past and Present Approaches
Agriculture 2013, 3(4), 684-699; doi:10.3390/agriculture3040684
Received: 25 June 2013 / Revised: 18 September 2013 / Accepted: 30 September 2013 / Published: 15 October 2013
Cited by 2 | PDF Full-text (572 KB) | HTML Full-text | XML Full-text
Abstract
In recent decades, the off-site transport of sediment and nutrients from agricultural land into the neighbouring natural and built environment has become a more pressing environmental sustainability issue than the on-site threats of soil erosion in many of the world’s temperate regions. In
[...] Read more.
In recent decades, the off-site transport of sediment and nutrients from agricultural land into the neighbouring natural and built environment has become a more pressing environmental sustainability issue than the on-site threats of soil erosion in many of the world’s temperate regions. In the temperate region of Northern Ireland, recent studies have highlighted the off-site issue of soil erosion by water in the present day, and projected that the problem may become more widespread and serious in a changing climate. This review paper examines how this problem is being managed in the present day, and draws on examples of policy in other countries to consider how the role of policy needs to be modified for more effective management. Farmers are generally not adhering to present-day policy and “keeping their land in good agricultural and environmental condition”. A range of suggested changes in policy and practice is offered, ranging from educating farmers on erosion mitigation and remediation to developing specific policies aimed at targeting soil erosion and conservation as their sole objective. An increase in the evidence base from measured erosion rates in the field is postulated to be the most likely route to achieving policy changes. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Soil Erosion: A Major Threat to Food Production and the Environment)
Open AccessReview Soil Erosion from Agriculture and Mining: A Threat to Tropical Stream Ecosystems
Agriculture 2013, 3(4), 660-683; doi:10.3390/agriculture3040660
Received: 23 July 2013 / Revised: 7 September 2013 / Accepted: 13 September 2013 / Published: 30 September 2013
Cited by 10 | PDF Full-text (2635 KB) | HTML Full-text | XML Full-text
Abstract
In tropical countries soil erosion is often increased due to high erodibility of geologically old and weathered soils; intensive rainfall; inappropriate soil management; removal of forest vegetation cover; and mining activities. Stream ecosystems draining agricultural or mining areas are often severely impacted by
[...] Read more.
In tropical countries soil erosion is often increased due to high erodibility of geologically old and weathered soils; intensive rainfall; inappropriate soil management; removal of forest vegetation cover; and mining activities. Stream ecosystems draining agricultural or mining areas are often severely impacted by the high loads of eroded material entering the stream channel; increasing turbidity; covering instream habitat and affecting the riparian zone; and thereby modifying habitat and food web structures. The biodiversity is severely threatened by these negative effects as the aquatic and riparian fauna and flora are not adapted to cope with excessive rates of erosion and sedimentation. Eroded material may also be polluted by pesticides or heavy metals that have an aggravating effect on functions and ecosystem services. Loss of superficial material and deepening of erosion gullies impoverish the nutrient and carbon contents of the soils; and lower the water tables; causing a “lose-lose” situation for agricultural productivity and environmental integrity. Several examples show how to interrupt this vicious cycle by integrated catchment management and by combining “green” and “hard” engineering for habitat restoration. In this review; we summarize current findings on this issue from tropical countries with a focus on case studies from Suriname and Brazil. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Soil Erosion: A Major Threat to Food Production and the Environment)
Open AccessReview Role of Arthropods in Maintaining Soil Fertility
Agriculture 2013, 3(4), 629-659; doi:10.3390/agriculture3040629
Received: 6 August 2013 / Revised: 31 August 2013 / Accepted: 3 September 2013 / Published: 25 September 2013
Cited by 10 | PDF Full-text (520 KB) | HTML Full-text | XML Full-text
Abstract
In terms of species richness, arthropods may represent as much as 85% of the soil fauna. They comprise a large proportion of the meso- and macrofauna of the soil. Within the litter/soil system, five groups are chiefly represented: Isopoda, Myriapoda, Insecta, Acari, and
[...] Read more.
In terms of species richness, arthropods may represent as much as 85% of the soil fauna. They comprise a large proportion of the meso- and macrofauna of the soil. Within the litter/soil system, five groups are chiefly represented: Isopoda, Myriapoda, Insecta, Acari, and Collembola, the latter two being by far the most abundant and diverse. Arthropods function on two of the three broad levels of organization of the soil food web: they are plant litter transformers or ecosystem engineers. Litter transformers fragment, or comminute, and humidify ingested plant debris, which is deposited in feces for further decomposition by micro-organisms, and foster the growth and dispersal of microbial populations. Large quantities of annual litter input may be processed (e.g., up to 60% by termites). The comminuted plant matter in feces presents an increased surface area to attack by micro-organisms, which, through the process of mineralization, convert its organic nutrients into simpler, inorganic compounds available to plants. Ecosystem engineers alter soil structure, mineral and organic matter composition, and hydrology. The burrowing by arthropods, particularly the subterranean network of tunnels and galleries that comprise termite and ant nests, improves soil porosity to provide adequate aeration and water-holding capacity below ground, facilitate root penetration, and prevent surface crusting and erosion of topsoil. Also, the movement of particles from lower horizons to the surface by ants and termites aids in mixing the organic and mineral fractions of the soil. The feces of arthropods are the basis for the formation of soil aggregates and humus, which physically stabilize the soil and increase its capacity to store nutrients. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Soil Erosion: A Major Threat to Food Production and the Environment)
Open AccessReview Alternative Land Management Strategies and Their Impact on Soil Conservation
Agriculture 2013, 3(3), 464-483; doi:10.3390/agriculture3030464
Received: 1 July 2013 / Revised: 30 July 2013 / Accepted: 12 August 2013 / Published: 22 August 2013
Cited by 4 | PDF Full-text (551 KB) | HTML Full-text | XML Full-text
Abstract
Soil conservation is threatened by a number of factors, namely the effects of intensive agricultural practices, the increasing pressure for food production linked to the increasing human population, the consumption patterns in developed and emerging economies, and the conversion of agriculture from the
[...] Read more.
Soil conservation is threatened by a number of factors, namely the effects of intensive agricultural practices, the increasing pressure for food production linked to the increasing human population, the consumption patterns in developed and emerging economies, and the conversion of agriculture from the production of commodities (which is itself a goal in need of discussion) to the production of biofuels. The extent of human pressure and the effects of conflicting land use systems need to be addressed. Alternative and conservative agricultural practices need to be explored and widely adopted in order to preserve the soil fertility, assessing their pros and cons. In this paper, the main potential alternative practices are reviewed, focusing in particular on organic farming. It is also argued that in order to better plan to preserve soil health a strategy considering the whole food system is required. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Soil Erosion: A Major Threat to Food Production and the Environment)
Open AccessReview Soil Erosion in Britain: Updating the Record
Agriculture 2013, 3(3), 418-442; doi:10.3390/agriculture3030418
Received: 1 July 2013 / Revised: 29 July 2013 / Accepted: 30 July 2013 / Published: 8 August 2013
Cited by 5 | PDF Full-text (2121 KB) | HTML Full-text | XML Full-text
Abstract
Concern about soil erosion on arable land in Britain dates back at least 40 years. Monitoring schemes and case studies have subsequently identified the areas at risk, the rates and frequencies and the major factors responsible for erosion. Initial concern focused on impacts
[...] Read more.
Concern about soil erosion on arable land in Britain dates back at least 40 years. Monitoring schemes and case studies have subsequently identified the areas at risk, the rates and frequencies and the major factors responsible for erosion. Initial concern focused on impacts on the farm and therefore on food production. Latterly the emphasis has shifted to off-farm impacts particularly reservoir sedimentation, muddy flooding of properties and the ecological damage to watercourses due to nutrient enrichment, pesticides and damage to fish spawning grounds from fine-sediment inputs. The shift has therefore been to concerns about a healthy and sustainable environment which includes soils. Government agencies, the water companies and the farming industry have lagged behind scientific studies in recognising and addressing erosion problems. Attempts at mitigation are now largely driven by the need to comply with the EU Water Framework Directive whereby watercourses must reach “good status” by 2015. Future changes in land use and climate will offer further challenges in terms of effective monitoring and compliance. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Soil Erosion: A Major Threat to Food Production and the Environment)
Open AccessReview The Potential Impact of Climate Change on Soil Properties and Processes and Corresponding Influence on Food Security
Agriculture 2013, 3(3), 398-417; doi:10.3390/agriculture3030398
Received: 28 May 2013 / Revised: 20 July 2013 / Accepted: 23 July 2013 / Published: 31 July 2013
Cited by 7 | PDF Full-text (1071 KB) | HTML Full-text | XML Full-text
Abstract
According to the IPCC, global temperatures are expected to increase between 1.1 and 6.4 °C during the 21st century and precipitation patterns will be altered. Soils are intricately linked to the atmospheric/climate system through the carbon, nitrogen, and hydrologic cycles. Because of this,
[...] Read more.
According to the IPCC, global temperatures are expected to increase between 1.1 and 6.4 °C during the 21st century and precipitation patterns will be altered. Soils are intricately linked to the atmospheric/climate system through the carbon, nitrogen, and hydrologic cycles. Because of this, altered climate will have an effect on soil processes and properties. Recent studies indicate at least some soils may become net sources of atmospheric C, lowering soil organic matter levels. Soil erosion by wind and water is also likely to increase. However, there are many things we need to know more about. How climate change will affect the N cycle and, in turn, how that will affect C storage in soils is a major research need, as is a better understanding of how erosion processes will be influenced by changes in climate. The response of plants to elevated atmospheric CO2 given limitations in nutrients like N and P, and how that will influence soil organic matter levels, is another critical research need. How soil organic matter levels react to changes in the C and N cycles will influence the ability of soils to support crop growth, which has significant ramifications for food security. Therefore, further study of soil-climate interactions in a changing world is critical to addressing future food security concerns. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Soil Erosion: A Major Threat to Food Production and the Environment)

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