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Special Issue "Enhancing Soil Health to Mitigate Soil Degradation"

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A special issue of Sustainability (ISSN 2071-1050). This special issue belongs to the section "Sustainable Agriculture, Food and Wildlife".

Deadline for manuscript submissions: closed (1 November 2014)

Special Issue Editor

Guest Editor
Dr. Douglas L. Karlen

National Laboratory for Agriculture and the Environment, Agricultural Research Service, 2110 University Boulevard, Ames, IA 50011-3120, USA
Phone: 515-294-3336
Fax: +1-515-294-8125
Interests: soil quality; soil health; soil security; sustainable bioenergy feedstock production and logistics; management of agricultural landscapes; sustainable agriculture in general

Special Issue Information

Dear Colleagues,

Five of the top ten problems facing humanity (http://cnst.rice.edu/content.aspx?id=246) over the next 50 years (food, water, energy, environment and poverty) are directly related to the health of soil resources. Several different factors, including: (a) excessive tillage; (b) inappropriate crop rotations; (c) excessive grazing or crop residue removal; (d) deforestation; (e) mining and/or fracking; and (f) construction or urban sprawl, have contributed to the global problem of soil degradation. Understanding and implementing sustainable agricultural and land management practices that improve soil health is essential for mitigating and reversing these trends, if we are to successfully meet the needs of more than 9.5 billion people who will be sharing our fragile planet by the middle of the 21st century.

The overall focus for this special issue will be on agricultural factors contributing to soil degradation and suggested strategies for mitigating and reversing those trends. The discussion will be anchored by invited contributions reflecting perspectives from Africa, Australia, China, Eastern Europe, India, Latin America, North America, Russia, and Western Europe. Voluntary contributions will be evaluated, and if well written and able to pass a rigorous peer review, will be incorporated into the issue to provide a global perspective on soil degradation and strategies to mitigate its devastating effects.

This special issue will draw upon published literature addressing soil quality and/or soil health, soil and crop management strategies to mitigate soil degradation, and future research needs and strategies that will steadily improve the fragile layer that lies between us and starvation. Your participation and contributions to this important endeavor are welcomed and encouraged.

Dr. Douglas L. Karlen
Guest Editor

Following is a list of “reference papers” that are relevant for the SI topic

1.     Karlen, D.L.; Mausbach, M.J.; Doran, J.W.; Cline, R.G.; Harris, R.F.; Schuman, G.E. Soil quality: A concept, definition, and framework for evaluation. Soil Sci. Soc. Am. J. 1997, 61, 4–10.
2.     Karlen, D.L.; Andrews, S.S.; Doran, J.W. Soil Quality: Current Concepts and Applications. Adv. Agron. 2001, 74, 1–40.
3.     Karlen, D.L.; Ditzler, C.A.; Andrews, S.S. Soil quality: why and how? Geoderma 2003, 114, 145–156.
4.     Andrews, S.S.; Flora, C.B.; Mitchell, J.P.; Karlen, D.L. Growers’ perceptions and acceptance of soil quality indices. Geoderma 2003, 114, 187–213.
5.     Karlen, D.L.; Andrews, S.S.; Weinhold, B.J.; Doran, J.W. Soil quality: Humankind’s foundation for survival. J. Soil Water Conserv. 2003, 58, 171–179.
6.     Andrews, S.S.; Karlen, D.L.; Cambardella, C.A. The soil management assessment framework: A quantitative soil quality evaluation method. Soil Sci. Soc. Am. J. 2004, 68, 1945–1962.
7.     Zobeck, T.M.; Halvorson, A.D.; Wienhold, B.J.; Acosta-Martinez, V.; Karlen, D.L. Comparison of two soil quality indexes to evaluate cropping systems in northern Colorado. J. Soil Water Conserv. 2008, 63, 329–338.
8.     Wienhold, B.J.; Andrews, S.S.; Kuykendall, H.; Karlen, D.L. Recent advances in soil quality assessment in the United States. J. Indian Soc. Soil Sci. 2008, 56, 237–246.
9.     Fernandez-Ugale, O.; Virto, I.; Bescansa, P.; Imaz, M.J.; Enrique, A.; Karlen, D.L. No-tillage improvement of soil physical quality in calcareous, degradation-prone, semiarid soils. Soil Tillage Res. 2009, 106, 29–35.
10.   Imaz, M.J.; Virto, I.; Bescansa, P.; Enrique, A.; Fernandez-Ugalde, O.; Karlen, D.L. Soil quality indicator response to tillage and residue management on semi-arid Mediterranean cropland. Soil Tillage Res. 2010, 107, 17–25.
11.   Wilhelm, W.W.; Hess, J.R.; Karlen, D.L.; Johnson, J.M.F.; Muth, D.J.; Baker, J.M.; Gollany, H.T.; Novak, J.M.; Stott, D.E.; Varvel, G.E. Balancing Limiting factors and economic drivers for sustainable Midwest agricultural residue feedstock supplies. Ind. Biotech. 2010, 6, 271–287.
12.   Karlen, D.L.; Dinnes, D.L.; Singer. J.W. Midwest Soil and Water Conservation: Past, Present and Future. In Soil and Water Conservation Advances in the US: Past Efforts—Future Outlook; Zobeck, T.M., Schillinger, W.F., Ed.; United State Department of Agriculture: Washington, DC, USA, 2010; pp. 131–162.
13.   Herrick, J.E.; Brown, J.R.; Bestelmeyer, B.T.; Andrews, S.S.; Baldi, G.; Davies, J.; Duniway, M.; Havstad, K.M.; Karl, J.; Karlen, D.L.; Peters, D.P.C.; Quinton, J.N.; Riginos, C.; Shaver, P.L.; Steinaker, D.; Twomlow, S. Revolutionary land use change in the 21st century: Is (Rangeland) science relevant? Rangel. Ecol. Manag. 2012, 65, 590–598.
14.   Stott, D.E.; Karlen, D.L.; Cambardella, C.A.; Harmel, R.D. A soil quality and metabolic activity assessment after 57 years of agricultural management. Soil Sci. Soc. Am. J. 2013, 77, 903–913.
15.   Karlen, D.L.; Kovar, J.L.; Cambardella, C.A.; Colvin, T.S. Thirty-year tillage effects on crop yield and soil fertility indicators. Soil Tillage Res. 2013, 130, 24–41.

Submission

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Submitted manuscripts should not have been published previously, nor be under consideration for publication elsewhere (except conference proceedings papers). All manuscripts are refereed through a peer-review process. A guide for authors and other relevant information for submission of manuscripts is available on the Instructions for Authors page. Sustainability is an international peer-reviewed Open Access monthly journal published by MDPI.

Please visit the Instructions for Authors page before submitting a manuscript. The Article Processing Charge (APC) for publication in this open access journal is 1200 CHF (Swiss Francs).


Keywords

  • soil resource management
  • soil health
  • soil quality
  • soil security
  • sustainable agriculture
  • soil degradation
  • landscape management
  • conservation agriculture
  • visual soil assessment

Published Papers (15 papers)

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Editorial

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Open AccessEditorial Soil Degradation: Will Humankind Ever Learn?
Sustainability 2015, 7(9), 12490-12501; doi:10.3390/su70912490
Received: 10 July 2015 / Revised: 26 August 2015 / Accepted: 3 September 2015 / Published: 11 September 2015
Cited by 3 | PDF Full-text (2115 KB) | HTML Full-text | XML Full-text
Abstract
Soil degradation is a global problem caused by many factors including excessive tillage, inappropriate crop rotations, excessive grazing or crop residue removal, deforestation, mining, construction and urban sprawl. To meet the needs of an expanding global population, it is essential for humankind [...] Read more.
Soil degradation is a global problem caused by many factors including excessive tillage, inappropriate crop rotations, excessive grazing or crop residue removal, deforestation, mining, construction and urban sprawl. To meet the needs of an expanding global population, it is essential for humankind to recognize and understand that improving soil health by adopting sustainable agricultural and land management practices is the best solution for mitigating and reversing current soil degradation trends. This research editorial is intended to provide an overview for this Special Issue of Sustainability that examines the global problem of soil degradation through reviews and recent research studies addressing soil health in Africa, Australia, China, Europe, India, North and South America, and Russia. Two common factors—soil erosion and depletion of soil organic matter (SOM)—emerge as consistent indicators of how “the thin layer covering the planet that stands between us and starvation” is being degraded. Soil degradation is not a new problem but failing to acknowledge, mitigate, and remediate the multiple factors leading to it is no longer a viable option for humankind. We optimistically conclude that the most promising strategies to mitigate soil degradation are to select appropriate land uses and improve soil management practices so that SOM is increased, soil biology is enhanced, and all forms of erosion are reduced. Collectively, these actions will enable humankind to “take care of the soil so it can take care of us”. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Enhancing Soil Health to Mitigate Soil Degradation)

Research

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Open AccessArticle Restoring Soil Quality to Mitigate Soil Degradation
Sustainability 2015, 7(5), 5875-5895; doi:10.3390/su7055875
Received: 31 March 2015 / Revised: 1 May 2015 / Accepted: 5 May 2015 / Published: 13 May 2015
Cited by 12 | PDF Full-text (2394 KB) | HTML Full-text | XML Full-text
Abstract
Feeding the world population, 7.3 billion in 2015 and projected to increase to 9.5 billion by 2050, necessitates an increase in agricultural production of ~70% between 2005 and 2050. Soil degradation, characterized by decline in quality and decrease in ecosystem goods and [...] Read more.
Feeding the world population, 7.3 billion in 2015 and projected to increase to 9.5 billion by 2050, necessitates an increase in agricultural production of ~70% between 2005 and 2050. Soil degradation, characterized by decline in quality and decrease in ecosystem goods and services, is a major constraint to achieving the required increase in agricultural production. Soil is a non-renewable resource on human time scales with its vulnerability to degradation depending on complex interactions between processes, factors and causes occurring at a range of spatial and temporal scales. Among the major soil degradation processes are accelerated erosion, depletion of the soil organic carbon (SOC) pool and loss in biodiversity, loss of soil fertility and elemental imbalance, acidification and salinization. Soil degradation trends can be reversed by conversion to a restorative land use and adoption of recommended management practices. The strategy is to minimize soil erosion, create positive SOC and N budgets, enhance activity and species diversity of soil biota (micro, meso, and macro), and improve structural stability and pore geometry. Improving soil quality (i.e., increasing SOC pool, improving soil structure, enhancing soil fertility) can reduce risks of soil degradation (physical, chemical, biological and ecological) while improving the environment. Increasing the SOC pool to above the critical level (10 to 15 g/kg) is essential to set-in-motion the restorative trends. Site-specific techniques of restoring soil quality include conservation agriculture, integrated nutrient management, continuous vegetative cover such as residue mulch and cover cropping, and controlled grazing at appropriate stocking rates. The strategy is to produce “more from less” by reducing losses and increasing soil, water, and nutrient use efficiency. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Enhancing Soil Health to Mitigate Soil Degradation)
Open AccessArticle Soil Quality Indices for Evaluating Smallholder Agricultural Land Uses in Northern Ethiopia
Sustainability 2015, 7(3), 2322-2337; doi:10.3390/su7032322
Received: 12 January 2015 / Revised: 11 February 2015 / Accepted: 15 February 2015 / Published: 27 February 2015
Cited by 4 | PDF Full-text (771 KB) | HTML Full-text | XML Full-text
Abstract
Population growth and increasing resource demands in Ethiopia are stressing and degrading agricultural landscapes. Most Ethiopian soils are already exhausted by several decades of over exploitation and mismanagement. Since many agricultural sustainability issues are related to soil quality, its assessment is very [...] Read more.
Population growth and increasing resource demands in Ethiopia are stressing and degrading agricultural landscapes. Most Ethiopian soils are already exhausted by several decades of over exploitation and mismanagement. Since many agricultural sustainability issues are related to soil quality, its assessment is very important. We determined integrated soil quality indices (SQI) within the surface 0–15 cm depth increment for three agricultural land uses: rain fed cultivation (RF); agroforestry (AF) and irrigated crop production (IR). Each land use was replicated five times within a semi-arid watershed in eastern Tigray, Northern Ethiopia. Using the framework suggested by Karlen and Stott (1994); four soil functions regarding soil’s ability to: (1) accommodate water entry (WE); (2) facilitate water movement and availability (WMA); (3) resist degradation (RD); and (4) supply nutrients for plant growth (PNS) were estimated for each land use. The result revealed that AF affected all soil quality functions positively more than the other land uses. Furthermore, the four soil quality functions were integrated into an overall SQI; and the values for the three land uses were in the order: 0.58 (AF) > 0.51 (IR) > 0.47 (RF). The dominant soil properties influencing the integrated SQI values were soil organic carbon (26.4%); water stable aggregation (20.0%); total porosity (16.0%); total nitrogen (11.2%); microbial biomass carbon (6.4%); and cation exchange capacity (6.4%). Collectively, those six indicators accounted for more than 80% of the overall SQI values. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Enhancing Soil Health to Mitigate Soil Degradation)
Open AccessArticle Threats to Sustainability of Soil Functions in Central and Southeast Europe
Sustainability 2015, 7(2), 2161-2188; doi:10.3390/su7022161
Received: 14 December 2014 / Revised: 11 February 2015 / Accepted: 12 February 2015 / Published: 16 February 2015
Cited by 1 | PDF Full-text (2141 KB) | HTML Full-text | XML Full-text
Abstract
A diverse topography along with deforestation, changing climatic conditions, long-term human settlement, overuse of agricultural lands without sustainable planning, cultural difficulties in accepting conservative land management practices, and wrong political decisions have increased the vulnerability of many soils to degradation and resulted [...] Read more.
A diverse topography along with deforestation, changing climatic conditions, long-term human settlement, overuse of agricultural lands without sustainable planning, cultural difficulties in accepting conservative land management practices, and wrong political decisions have increased the vulnerability of many soils to degradation and resulted in a serious decline in their functional capacity. A progressive reduction in the capacity of soils to support plant productivity is not only a threat in the African continent and its large desert zone, but also in several parts of Central and Southeastern Europe (CASEE). The loss of soil functions throughout CASEE is mainly related to the human activities that have profound influence on soil dynamic characteristics. Improper management of soils has made them more vulnerable to degradation through water and wind erosion, organic matter depletion, salinity, acidification, crusting and sealing, and compaction. Unmitigated degradation has substantial implications for long term sustainability of the soils’ capability to support human communities and resist desertification. If sustainable agricultural and land management practices are not identified, well understood and implemented, the decline in soil quality will continue and probably accelerate. The lack of uniform criteria for the assessment and evaluation of soil quality in CASEE countries prevents scientific assessments to determine if existing management practices are leading to soil quality improvement, or if not, what management practices should be recommended to mitigate and reverse the loss of soil health. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Enhancing Soil Health to Mitigate Soil Degradation)
Open AccessArticle Understanding and Enhancing Soil Biological Health: The Solution for Reversing Soil Degradation
Sustainability 2015, 7(1), 988-1027; doi:10.3390/su7010988
Received: 13 November 2014 / Revised: 12 December 2014 / Accepted: 12 January 2015 / Published: 19 January 2015
Cited by 7 | PDF Full-text (2143 KB) | HTML Full-text | XML Full-text
Abstract
Our objective is to provide an optimistic strategy for reversing soil degradation by increasing public and private research efforts to understand the role of soil biology, particularly microbiology, on the health of our world’s soils. We begin by defining soil quality/soil health [...] Read more.
Our objective is to provide an optimistic strategy for reversing soil degradation by increasing public and private research efforts to understand the role of soil biology, particularly microbiology, on the health of our world’s soils. We begin by defining soil quality/soil health (which we consider to be interchangeable terms), characterizing healthy soil resources, and relating the significance of soil health to agroecosystems and their functions. We examine how soil biology influences soil health and how biological properties and processes contribute to sustainability of agriculture and ecosystem services. We continue by examining what can be done to manipulate soil biology to: (i) increase nutrient availability for production of high yielding, high quality crops; (ii) protect crops from pests, pathogens, weeds; and (iii) manage other factors limiting production, provision of ecosystem services, and resilience to stresses like droughts. Next we look to the future by asking what needs to be known about soil biology that is not currently recognized or fully understood and how these needs could be addressed using emerging research tools. We conclude, based on our perceptions of how new knowledge regarding soil biology will help make agriculture more sustainable and productive, by recommending research emphases that should receive first priority through enhanced public and private research in order to reverse the trajectory toward global soil degradation. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Enhancing Soil Health to Mitigate Soil Degradation)
Open AccessArticle History of East European Chernozem Soil Degradation; Protection and Restoration by Tree Windbreaks in the Russian Steppe
Sustainability 2015, 7(1), 705-724; doi:10.3390/su7010705
Received: 30 October 2014 / Accepted: 29 December 2014 / Published: 8 January 2015
Cited by 4 | PDF Full-text (4547 KB) | HTML Full-text | XML Full-text
Abstract
The physiographic region of the Central Russian Upland, situated in the Central part of Eastern Europe, is characterized by very fertile grassland soils—Chernozems (Mollisols in the USDA taxonomy). However, over the last several centuries this region has experienced intense land-use conversion. The [...] Read more.
The physiographic region of the Central Russian Upland, situated in the Central part of Eastern Europe, is characterized by very fertile grassland soils—Chernozems (Mollisols in the USDA taxonomy). However, over the last several centuries this region has experienced intense land-use conversion. The most widespread and significant land-use change is the extensive cultivation of these soils. As a result, Chernozems of the region that were some of the most naturally fertile soils in the world with thick A horizons had become, by the second half of the 19th century, weakly productive, with decreased stocks of organic matter. When not protected by plant cover, water and wind erosion degraded the open fields. The investigation of methods for rehabilitation and restoration of Chernozems resulted in the practice of afforestation of agricultural lands (mainly by windbreak planting). Preferences of agroforestry practices were initially connected with protection of cropland from wind and water erosion, improvement of microclimate for crop growth, and providing new refugia for wild animal and plant habitats. During the last several decades, tree windbreaks have begun to be viewed as ecosystems with great potential for atmospheric carbon sequestration, which plays a positive role in climate change mitigation. For the evaluation of windbreak influence on Chernozem soils, a study was developed with three field study areas across a climatic gradient from cool and wet in the north of the region to warm and dry in the south. Windbreak age ranged from 55–57 years. At each site, soil pits were prepared within the windbreak, the adjacent crop fields of 150 years of cultivation, and nearby undisturbed grassland. Profile descriptions were completed to a depth of 1.5 m. A linear relationship was detected between the difference in organic-rich surface layer (A + AB horizon) thickness of soils beneath windbreaks and undisturbed grasslands and a climate index, the hydrothermal coefficient (HTC). These results indicate that windbreaks under relatively cooler and wetter climate conditions are more favorable for organic matter accumulation in the surface soil. For the 0–100 cm layer of the Chernozems beneath windbreaks, an increase in organic C stocks comparable with undisturbed grassland soils (15–63 Mg·ha−1) was detected. Significant growth of soil organic matter stocks was identified not only for the upper 30 cm, but also for the deeper layer (30–100 cm) of afforested Chernozems. These findings illustrate that, in the central part of Eastern Europe, tree windbreaks improve soil quality by enhancing soil organic matter while providing a sink for atmospheric carbon in tree biomass and soil organic matter. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Enhancing Soil Health to Mitigate Soil Degradation)
Open AccessArticle Do Current European Policies Prevent Soil Threats and Support Soil Functions?
Sustainability 2014, 6(12), 9538-9563; doi:10.3390/su6129538
Received: 30 October 2014 / Revised: 8 December 2014 / Accepted: 12 December 2014 / Published: 22 December 2014
Cited by 6 | PDF Full-text (799 KB) | HTML Full-text | XML Full-text
Abstract
There is currently no legislation at the European level that focuses exclusively on soil conservation. A cross-policy analysis was carried out to identify gaps and overlaps in existing EU legislation that is related to soil threats and functions. We found that three [...] Read more.
There is currently no legislation at the European level that focuses exclusively on soil conservation. A cross-policy analysis was carried out to identify gaps and overlaps in existing EU legislation that is related to soil threats and functions. We found that three soil threats, namely compaction, salinization and soil sealing, were not addressed in any of the 19 legislative policies that were analyzed. Other soil threats, such as erosion, decline in organic matter, loss of biodiversity and contamination, were covered in existing legislation, but only a few directives provided targets for reducing the soil threats. Existing legislation addresses the reduction of the seven soil functions that were analyzed, but there are very few directives for improving soil functions. Because soil degradation is ongoing in Europe, it raises the question whether existing legislation is sufficient for maintaining soil resources. Addressing soil functions individually in various directives fails to account for the multifunctionality of soil. This paper suggests that a European Soil Framework Directive would increase the effectiveness of conserving soil functions in the EU. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Enhancing Soil Health to Mitigate Soil Degradation)
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Review

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Open AccessReview The State of Soil Degradation in Sub-Saharan Africa: Baselines, Trajectories, and Solutions
Sustainability 2015, 7(6), 6523-6552; doi:10.3390/su7066523
Received: 4 February 2015 / Revised: 2 May 2015 / Accepted: 5 May 2015 / Published: 26 May 2015
Cited by 6 | PDF Full-text (1146 KB) | HTML Full-text | XML Full-text
Abstract
The primary cause of soil degradation in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) is expansion and intensification of agriculture in efforts to feed its growing population. Effective solutions will support resilient systems, and must cut across agricultural, environmental, and socioeconomic objectives. While many studies compare [...] Read more.
The primary cause of soil degradation in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) is expansion and intensification of agriculture in efforts to feed its growing population. Effective solutions will support resilient systems, and must cut across agricultural, environmental, and socioeconomic objectives. While many studies compare and contrast the effects of different management practices on soil properties, soil degradation can only be evaluated within a specific temporal and spatial context using multiple indicators. The extent and rate of soil degradation in SSA is still under debate as there are no reliable data, just gross estimates. Nevertheless, certain soils are losing their ability to provide food and essential ecosystem services, and we know that soil fertility depletion is the primary cause. We synthesize data from studies that examined degradation in SSA at broad spatial and temporal scales and quantified multiple soil degradation indicators, and we found clear indications of degradation across multiple indicators. However, different indicators have different trajectories—pH and cation exchange capacity tend to decline linearly, and soil organic carbon and yields non-linearly. Future research should focus on how soil degradation in SSA leads to changes in ecosystem services, and how to manage these soils now and in the future. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Enhancing Soil Health to Mitigate Soil Degradation)
Open AccessReview Monitor Soil Degradation or Triage for Soil Security? An Australian Challenge
Sustainability 2015, 7(5), 4870-4892; doi:10.3390/su7054870
Received: 11 March 2015 / Revised: 3 April 2015 / Accepted: 9 April 2015 / Published: 24 April 2015
Cited by 3 | PDF Full-text (3087 KB) | HTML Full-text | XML Full-text
Abstract
The Australian National Soil Research, Development and Extension Strategy identifies soil security as a foundation for the current and future productivity and profitability of Australian agriculture. Current agricultural production is attenuated by soil degradation. Future production is highly dependent on the condition [...] Read more.
The Australian National Soil Research, Development and Extension Strategy identifies soil security as a foundation for the current and future productivity and profitability of Australian agriculture. Current agricultural production is attenuated by soil degradation. Future production is highly dependent on the condition of Australian soils. Soil degradation in Australia is dominated in its areal extent by soil erosion. We reiterate the use of soil erosion as a reliable indicator of soil condition/quality and a practical measure of soil degradation. We describe three key phases of soil degradation since European settlement, and show a clear link between inappropriate agricultural practices and the resultant soil degradation. We demonstrate that modern agricultural practices have had a marked effect on reducing erosion. Current advances in agricultural soil management could lead to further stabilization and slowing of soil degradation in addition to improving productivity. However, policy complacency towards soil degradation, combined with future climate projections of increased rainfall intensity but decreased volumes, warmer temperatures and increased time in drought may once again accelerate soil degradation and susceptibility to erosion and thus limit the ability of agriculture to advance without further improving soil management practices. Monitoring soil degradation may indicate land degradation, but we contend that monitoring will not lead to soil security. We propose the adoption of a triaging approach to soil degradation using the soil security framework, to prioritise treatment plans that engage science and agriculture to develop practices that simultaneously increase productivity and improve soil condition. This will provide a public policy platform for efficient allocation of public and private resources to secure Australia’s soil resource. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Enhancing Soil Health to Mitigate Soil Degradation)
Open AccessReview Soil Degradation in India: Challenges and Potential Solutions
Sustainability 2015, 7(4), 3528-3570; doi:10.3390/su7043528
Received: 16 November 2014 / Revised: 9 February 2015 / Accepted: 27 February 2015 / Published: 25 March 2015
Cited by 6 | PDF Full-text (1577 KB) | HTML Full-text | XML Full-text | Supplementary Files
Abstract
Soil degradation in India is estimated to be occurring on 147 million hectares (Mha) of land, including 94 Mha from water erosion, 16 Mha from acidification, 14 Mha from flooding, 9 Mha from wind erosion, 6 Mha from salinity, and 7 Mha [...] Read more.
Soil degradation in India is estimated to be occurring on 147 million hectares (Mha) of land, including 94 Mha from water erosion, 16 Mha from acidification, 14 Mha from flooding, 9 Mha from wind erosion, 6 Mha from salinity, and 7 Mha from a combination of factors. This is extremely serious because India supports 18% of the world’s human population and 15% of the world’s livestock population, but has only 2.4% of the world’s land area. Despite its low proportional land area, India ranks second worldwide in farm output. Agriculture, forestry, and fisheries account for 17% of the gross domestic product and employs about 50% of the total workforce of the country. Causes of soil degradation are both natural and human-induced. Natural causes include earthquakes, tsunamis, droughts, avalanches, landslides, volcanic eruptions, floods, tornadoes, and wildfires. Human-induced soil degradation results from land clearing and deforestation, inappropriate agricultural practices, improper management of industrial effluents and wastes, over-grazing, careless management of forests, surface mining, urban sprawl, and commercial/industrial development. Inappropriate agricultural practices include excessive tillage and use of heavy machinery, excessive and unbalanced use of inorganic fertilizers, poor irrigation and water management techniques, pesticide overuse, inadequate crop residue and/or organic carbon inputs, and poor crop cycle planning. Some underlying social causes of soil degradation in India are land shortage, decline in per capita land availability, economic pressure on land, land tenancy, poverty, and population increase. In this review of land degradation in India, we summarize (1) the main causes of soil degradation in different agro-climatic regions; (2) research results documenting both soil degradation and soil health improvement in various agricultural systems; and (3) potential solutions to improve soil health in different regions using a variety of conservation agricultural approaches. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Enhancing Soil Health to Mitigate Soil Degradation)
Open AccessReview North American Soil Degradation: Processes, Practices, and Mitigating Strategies
Sustainability 2015, 7(3), 2936-2960; doi:10.3390/su7032936
Received: 14 November 2014 / Revised: 23 February 2015 / Accepted: 27 February 2015 / Published: 11 March 2015
Cited by 3 | PDF Full-text (2446 KB) | HTML Full-text | XML Full-text
Abstract
Soil can be degraded by several natural or human-mediated processes, including wind, water, or tillage erosion, and formation of undesirable physical, chemical, or biological properties due to industrialization or use of inappropriate farming practices. Soil degradation occurs whenever these processes supersede natural [...] Read more.
Soil can be degraded by several natural or human-mediated processes, including wind, water, or tillage erosion, and formation of undesirable physical, chemical, or biological properties due to industrialization or use of inappropriate farming practices. Soil degradation occurs whenever these processes supersede natural soil regeneration and, generally, reflects unsustainable resource management that is global in scope and compromises world food security. In North America, soil degradation preceded the catastrophic wind erosion associated with the dust bowl during the 1930s, but that event provided the impetus to improve management of soils degraded by both wind and water erosion. Chemical degradation due to site specific industrial processing and mine spoil contamination began to be addressed during the latter half of the 20th century primarily through point-source water quality concerns, but soil chemical degradation and contamination of surface and subsurface water due to on-farm non-point pesticide and nutrient management practices generally remains unresolved. Remediation or prevention of soil degradation requires integrated management solutions that, for agricultural soils, include using cover crops or crop residue management to reduce raindrop impact, maintain higher infiltration rates, increase soil water storage, and ultimately increase crop production. By increasing plant biomass, and potentially soil organic carbon (SOC) concentrations, soil degradation can be mitigated by stabilizing soil aggregates, improving soil structure, enhancing air and water exchange, increasing nutrient cycling, and promoting greater soil biological activity. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Enhancing Soil Health to Mitigate Soil Degradation)
Open AccessReview Soil Quality Impacts of Current South American Agricultural Practices
Sustainability 2015, 7(2), 2213-2242; doi:10.3390/su7022213
Received: 19 November 2014 / Revised: 17 January 2015 / Accepted: 10 February 2015 / Published: 17 February 2015
Cited by 7 | PDF Full-text (1043 KB) | HTML Full-text | XML Full-text
Abstract
Increasing global demand for oil seeds and cereals during the past 50 years has caused an expansion in the cultivated areas and resulted in major soil management and crop production changes throughout Bolivia, Paraguay, Uruguay, Argentina and southern Brazil. Unprecedented adoption of [...] Read more.
Increasing global demand for oil seeds and cereals during the past 50 years has caused an expansion in the cultivated areas and resulted in major soil management and crop production changes throughout Bolivia, Paraguay, Uruguay, Argentina and southern Brazil. Unprecedented adoption of no-tillage as well as improved soil fertility and plant genetics have increased yields, but the use of purchased inputs, monocropping i.e., continuous soybean (Glycine max (L.) Merr.), and marginal land cultivation have also increased. These changes have significantly altered the global food and feed supply role of these countries, but they have also resulted in various levels of soil degradation through wind and water erosion, soil compaction, soil organic matter (SOM) depletion, and nutrient losses. Sustainability is dependent upon local interactions between soil, climate, landscape characteristics, and production systems. This review examines the region’s current soil and crop conditions and summarizes several research studies designed to reduce or prevent soil degradation. Although the region has both environmental and soil resources that can sustain current agricultural production levels, increasing population, greater urbanization, and more available income will continue to increase the pressure on South American croplands. A better understanding of regional soil differences and quantifying potential consequences of current production practices on various soil resources is needed to ensure that scientific, educational, and regulatory programs result in land management recommendations that support intensification of agriculture without additional soil degradation or other unintended environmental consequences. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Enhancing Soil Health to Mitigate Soil Degradation)
Open AccessReview The Soil Degradation Paradox: Compromising Our Resources When We Need Them the Most
Sustainability 2015, 7(1), 866-879; doi:10.3390/su7010866
Received: 19 November 2014 / Accepted: 7 January 2015 / Published: 13 January 2015
Cited by 7 | PDF Full-text (1576 KB) | HTML Full-text | XML Full-text
Abstract
Soil degradation can take many forms, from erosion to salinization to the overall depletion of organic matter. The expression of soil degradation is broad, and so too are the causes. As the world population nears eight billion, and the environmental uncertainty of [...] Read more.
Soil degradation can take many forms, from erosion to salinization to the overall depletion of organic matter. The expression of soil degradation is broad, and so too are the causes. As the world population nears eight billion, and the environmental uncertainty of climate change becomes more manifest, the importance of our soil resources will only increase. The goal of this paper is to synthesize the catalysts of soil degradation and to highlight the interconnected nature of the social and economic causes of soil degradation. An expected three billion people will enter the middle class in the next 20 years; this will lead to an increased demand for meat, dairy products, and consequently grain. As populations rise so do the economic incentives to convert farmland to other purposes. With the intensity and frequency of droughts and flooding increasing, consumer confidence and the ability of crops to reach yield goals are also threatened. In a time of uncertainty, conservation measures are often the first to be sacrificed. In short, we are compromising our soil resources when we need them the most. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Enhancing Soil Health to Mitigate Soil Degradation)
Open AccessReview Soil Degradation and Soil Quality in Western Europe: Current Situation and Future Perspectives
Sustainability 2015, 7(1), 313-365; doi:10.3390/su7010313
Received: 6 November 2014 / Accepted: 19 December 2014 / Published: 31 December 2014
Cited by 5 | PDF Full-text (844 KB) | HTML Full-text | XML Full-text
Abstract
The extent and causes of chemical, physical and biological degradation of soil, and of soil loss, vary greatly in different countries in Western Europe. The objective of this review paper is to examine these issues and also strategies for soil protection and [...] Read more.
The extent and causes of chemical, physical and biological degradation of soil, and of soil loss, vary greatly in different countries in Western Europe. The objective of this review paper is to examine these issues and also strategies for soil protection and future perspectives for soil quality evaluation, in light of present legislation aimed at soil protection. Agriculture and forestry are the main causes of many of the above problems, especially physical degradation, erosion and organic matter loss. Land take and soil sealing have increased in recent decades, further enhancing the problems. In agricultural land, conservation farming, organic farming and other soil-friendly practices have been seen to have site-specific effects, depending on the soil characteristics and the particular types of land use and land users. No single soil management strategy is suitable for all regions, soil types and soil uses. Except for soil contamination, specific legislation for soil protection is lacking in Western Europe. The Thematic Strategy for Soil Protection in the European Union has produced valuable information and has encouraged the development of networks and databases. However, soil degradation is addressed only indirectly in environmental policies and through the Common Agricultural Policy of the European Union, which promotes farming practices that support soil conservation. Despite these efforts, there remains a need for soil monitoring networks and decision-support systems aimed at optimization of soil quality in the region. The pressure on European soils will continue in the future, and a clearly defined regulatory framework is needed. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Enhancing Soil Health to Mitigate Soil Degradation)
Open AccessReview Wind Erosion Induced Soil Degradation in Northern China: Status, Measures and Perspective
Sustainability 2014, 6(12), 8951-8966; doi:10.3390/su6128951
Received: 31 October 2014 / Revised: 20 November 2014 / Accepted: 26 November 2014 / Published: 4 December 2014
Cited by 4 | PDF Full-text (2874 KB) | HTML Full-text | XML Full-text
Abstract
Soil degradation is one of the most serious ecological problems in the world. In arid and semi-arid northern China, soil degradation predominantly arises from wind erosion. Trends in soil degradation caused by wind erosion in northern China frequently change with human activities [...] Read more.
Soil degradation is one of the most serious ecological problems in the world. In arid and semi-arid northern China, soil degradation predominantly arises from wind erosion. Trends in soil degradation caused by wind erosion in northern China frequently change with human activities and climatic change. To decrease soil loss by wind erosion and enhance local ecosystems, the Chinese government has been encouraging residents to reduce wind-induced soil degradation through a series of national policies and several ecological projects, such as the Natural Forest Protection Program, the National Action Program to Combat Desertification, the “Three Norths” Shelter Forest System, the Beijing-Tianjin Sand Source Control Engineering Project, and the Grain for Green Project. All these were implemented a number of decades ago, and have thus created many land management practices and control techniques across different landscapes. These measures include conservation tillage, windbreak networks, checkerboard barriers, the Non-Watering and Tube-Protecting Planting Technique, afforestation, grassland enclosures, etc. As a result, the aeolian degradation of land has been controlled in many regions of arid and semiarid northern China. However, the challenge of mitigating and further reversing soil degradation caused by wind erosion still remains. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Enhancing Soil Health to Mitigate Soil Degradation)
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