Special Issue "Sustainable Agriculture and Soil Conservation"

A special issue of Applied Sciences (ISSN 2076-3417). This special issue belongs to the section "Environmental and Sustainable Science and Technology".

Deadline for manuscript submissions: 31 December 2020.

Special Issue Editors

Dr. Concetta Eliana Gattullo
Website
Guest Editor
Department of Soil, Plant and Food Sciences, University of Bari “A. Moro”, 70125 Bari, Italy
Interests: dynamics of nutrients and toxic elements in the plant–soil system; soil pollution and remediation; soil mineralogy
Dr. Anna Maria Stellacci
Website
Guest Editor
Department of Soil, Plant and Food Sciences, University of Bari “A. Moro”, 70125 Bari, Italy
Interests: sustainable agronomic management; soil characterization and monitoring; soil quality indices; proximal sensing; mixed effects models accounting for residual autocorrelation
Dr. Mariangela Diacono
Website1 Website2 Website3 Website4
Guest Editor
Council for Agricultural Research and Economics - Research Center for Agriculture and Environment (CREA-AA), Via Celso Ulpiani 5, 70125 Bari, Italy
Interests: organic farming; agro-ecology; compost production, evaluation and application; sustainable agriculture assessment
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Special Issue Information

Dear Colleagues,

Soil degradation is one of the most topical environmental threats. A number of processes causing soil degradation, specifically erosion, compaction, salinization, pollution, and loss of both organic matter and soil biodiversity, is also strictly connected to agricultural activity and its intensification. The development and adoption of sustainable agronomic practices able to preserve and enhance the physical, chemical, and biological properties of soils and improve agroecosystem function is a challenge for both scientists and farmers. In recent decades, much progress has been achieved in the development of sustainable practices based on minimal soil disturbance, use of cover crops, organic mulching, crop rotations, water and nutrients conservation, recycling of crop residues and livestock manure for soil amendment, and precision agriculture. Several natural mechanisms of plants and microorganisms have also been usefully applied for the control of weeds and pests, as well as for the abatement of soil pollution. Furthermore, collaboration among different scientific disciplines has increased the ability to investigate problems and find practical solutions. In particular, the availability of innovative methodologies for rapid and accurate soil–plant system monitoring (proximal sensors, expeditious methods) and for data analysis has improved the understanding of soil processes and the adoption of sustainable management options. In addition, the sustainability assessment of agricultural systems performed by different methodologies, such as energy analysis and carbon footprint evaluation, is a crucial step in facing environmental threats like greenhouse gas (GHG) emission that lead to global warming.

This Special Issue welcomes original research papers and reviews focusing on recent advances and novelties in the field of sustainable and conservative agriculture. Multidisciplinary investigations are strongly encouraged.

Dr. Concetta Eliana Gattullo
Dr. Anna Maria Stellacci
Dr. Mirko Castellini
Dr. Mariangela Diacono
Guest editors

Manuscript Submission Information

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Keywords

  • Soil fertility and nutrient cycling
  • Carbon sequestration
  • Soil degradation
  • Cover crops
  • Soil biodiversity
  • Soil pollution and remediation
  • Water conservation practices
  • Soil monitoring and characterization
  • Proximal sensing for precision input applications
  • Sustainability assessment

Published Papers (8 papers)

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Research

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Open AccessArticle
Chemical and Spectroscopic Investigation of Different Soil Fractions as Affected by Soil Management
Appl. Sci. 2020, 10(7), 2571; https://doi.org/10.3390/app10072571 - 09 Apr 2020
Cited by 1
Abstract
The interaction of organic matter with the finest soil fractions (<20 μm) represents a good way for its stabilization. This study investigates the effects of conventional (CT), minimum (MT), and no (NT) tillage, fertilization, and non-fertilization, and soil depth (0–30, 30–60, and 60–90 [...] Read more.
The interaction of organic matter with the finest soil fractions (<20 μm) represents a good way for its stabilization. This study investigates the effects of conventional (CT), minimum (MT), and no (NT) tillage, fertilization, and non-fertilization, and soil depth (0–30, 30–60, and 60–90 cm) on the amount of organic carbon (OC) in four soil fractions. Diffuse reflectance infrared Fourier transform spectroscopy (DRIFT) was performed to obtain information about the OC quality and the mineralogical composition of these fractions. The CT shows the highest amount of the finest fraction while the fertilization enhances the microbial community with the increase of soil micro-aggregates (250–53 μm). The coarse fraction (>250 μm) is highest in the upper soil layer, while the finest fraction is in the deepest one. The greatest OC content is observed in the topsoil layer and in the finest soil fraction. DRIFT analysis suggests that organic components are more present in the finest fraction, calcite is mainly localized in the coarse fraction, quartz is in micro-aggregates and 53–20 μm fraction, and clay minerals are in the finest fraction. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Sustainable Agriculture and Soil Conservation)
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Open AccessArticle
Assessing Water Infiltration and Soil Water Repellency in Brazilian Atlantic Forest Soils
Appl. Sci. 2020, 10(6), 1950; https://doi.org/10.3390/app10061950 - 12 Mar 2020
Cited by 2
Abstract
This study presents the results of the soil hydraulic characterization performed under three land covers, namely pasture, 9-year-old restored forest, and remnant forest, in the Brazilian Atlantic Forest. Two types of infiltration tests were performed, namely tension (Mini-Disk Infiltrometer, MDI) and ponding (Beerkan) [...] Read more.
This study presents the results of the soil hydraulic characterization performed under three land covers, namely pasture, 9-year-old restored forest, and remnant forest, in the Brazilian Atlantic Forest. Two types of infiltration tests were performed, namely tension (Mini-Disk Infiltrometer, MDI) and ponding (Beerkan) tests. MDI and Beerkan tests provided complementary information, highlighting a clear increase of the hydraulic conductivity, especially at the remnant forest plots, when moving from near-saturated to saturated conditions. In addition, measuring the unsaturated soil hydraulic conductivity with different water pressure heads allowed the estimation of the macroscopic capillary length in the field. This approach, in conjunction with Beerkan measurements, allowed the design better estimates of the saturated soil hydraulic conductivity under challenging field conditions, such as soil water repellency (SWR). This research also reports, for the first time, evidence of SWR in the Atlantic Forest, which affected the early stage of the infiltration process with more frequency in the remnant forest. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Sustainable Agriculture and Soil Conservation)
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Open AccessArticle
Evaluation of Spent Grain Biochar Impact on Hop (Humulus lupulus L.) Growth by Multivariate Image Analysis
Appl. Sci. 2020, 10(2), 533; https://doi.org/10.3390/app10020533 - 10 Jan 2020
Cited by 1
Abstract
Biochar is generally considered as an effective soil amendment, which can improve soil organic matter and nutrients content and enhance crop productivity. In this study, biochar derived from brewers’ spent grain (BSG) was used in a pot and field experiment to assess whether [...] Read more.
Biochar is generally considered as an effective soil amendment, which can improve soil organic matter and nutrients content and enhance crop productivity. In this study, biochar derived from brewers’ spent grain (BSG) was used in a pot and field experiment to assess whether its addition to soil could affect hop plant growth. The experiment was conducted in Central Italy during the period March–August 2017. Three different German cultivars of hop plant (Hallertau Magnum, Perle, Spalter spalt) were considered. Biochar was added to the pot soil at 20% level. Its effect on the roots was evaluated using multivariate image analysis (MIA) and the statistical technique of general linear models (GLM), whereas the shoots, bines length and yield using GLM. Results showed that biochar significantly improved root growth (p < 0.0001). Regarding shoots, no variability for the genotypes was observed during the vegetative period, whereas slight differences resulted before plant dormancy, especially for the Hallertau Magnum cultivar. No differences in the number of leaves or bines length were observed between the two treatments for all cultivars. The addition of biochar to the soil significantly improved yield (number of cones). These results highlighted that BSG-derived biochar can be useful to improve hop plant growth and cones production. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Sustainable Agriculture and Soil Conservation)
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Open AccessArticle
Organic Vegetable Crops Managed with Agro-Ecological Practices: Environmental Sustainability Assessment by DEXi-met Decision Support System
Appl. Sci. 2019, 9(19), 4148; https://doi.org/10.3390/app9194148 - 03 Oct 2019
Cited by 1
Abstract
In the last decade, there has been an increasing interest in sustainable agricultural techniques and the environmental evaluation of the effects of agricultural practices. In the present study, we evaluated both the production capacity of organic horticultural systems, and the ex-post sustainability through [...] Read more.
In the last decade, there has been an increasing interest in sustainable agricultural techniques and the environmental evaluation of the effects of agricultural practices. In the present study, we evaluated both the production capacity of organic horticultural systems, and the ex-post sustainability through a new multi-attribute decision model named “DEXi-met”. This qualitative model is able to estimate the environmental sustainability of cropping systems managed with different agro-ecological approaches. In particular, we compared the following three horticultural systems: (i) ECO, an organic system with full implementation of agro-ecological strategies (agro-ecological services crops (ASC), strip cultivation, and organic amendment); (ii) GM, an organic system with the introduction of the ASC; (iii) NO ASC, an organic system without ASC. The treatments with ASC presence (ECO and GM) showed similar total energy outputs (substantially higher than the NO ASC), indicating the positive effect of this agro-ecological practice. The findings pointed out that the ECO system, which followed the principles of natural ecosystems, can contribute to building up more complex agro-ecosystems, increasing both resilience and biodiversity. This management strategy reached a good compromise between the production of vegetable cropping systems and environmental sustainability achievement. Then, it is possible to optimize the use of natural resources, support climate adaptation, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Sustainable Agriculture and Soil Conservation)
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Open AccessArticle
Stomatal Response of Maize (Zea mays L.) to Crude Oil Contamination in Soils
Appl. Sci. 2019, 9(19), 4074; https://doi.org/10.3390/app9194074 - 29 Sep 2019
Abstract
In this study, maize plant was cultured in soil contaminated with different levels of crude oil. The purpose was to investigate the change of soil properties, leaf physiological and chemical parameters, and phenanthrene content in the leaf. Results showed that soil water content [...] Read more.
In this study, maize plant was cultured in soil contaminated with different levels of crude oil. The purpose was to investigate the change of soil properties, leaf physiological and chemical parameters, and phenanthrene content in the leaf. Results showed that soil water content significantly increased when the levels of total petroleum hydrocarbons were 3700–17,800 mg/kg in soil, and soil electrical conductivity significantly increased compared with the control. In maize leaf, stomatal length and density, as well as K and Na contents decreased in contaminated treatments compared with the control. Stomatal length has a significant positive correlation with K content in leaf (r = 0.92, p < 0.01), while stomatal density was negatively correlated to the crude oil level in soil (r = −0.91, p < 0.05). Accumulation of phenanthrene in maize leaf was mainly through the foliar uptake pathway. Phenanthrene concentrations of maize leaf in oil-treated soil were less than that of the control, which exhibited a significant positive relationship with stomatal length (r = 0.98, p < 0.01). This study demonstrated that the stomata structure of maize could be influenced by crude oil and thus possibly controlling the accumulation of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons in aerial tissues. Based on these results, controlling stomata movement will be beneficial to phytoremediation of contaminated soil. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Sustainable Agriculture and Soil Conservation)
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Open AccessFeature PaperArticle
Influence of Increasing Tungsten Concentrations and Soil Characteristics on Plant Uptake: Greenhouse Experiments with Zea mays
Appl. Sci. 2019, 9(19), 3998; https://doi.org/10.3390/app9193998 - 24 Sep 2019
Abstract
Tungsten is largely used in high-tech and military industries. Soils are increasingly enriched in this element, and its transfer in the food chain is an issue of great interest. This study evaluated the influence of soil characteristics on tungsten uptake by Zea mays [...] Read more.
Tungsten is largely used in high-tech and military industries. Soils are increasingly enriched in this element, and its transfer in the food chain is an issue of great interest. This study evaluated the influence of soil characteristics on tungsten uptake by Zea mays grown on three soils, spiked with increasing tungsten concentrations. The soils, classified as Histosol, Vertisol, and Fluvisol, are characteristic of the Mediterranean area. The uptake of the element by Zea mays was strictly dependent on the soil characteristics. As the pH of soils increases, tungsten concentrations in the roots and shoots of the plants increased. Also, humic substances showed a great influence on tungsten uptake, which decreased with increasing organic matter of soils. Tungsten uptake by Zea mays can be described by a Freundlich-like equation. This soil-to-plant transfer model may be useful in promoting environmental regulations on the hazards of this element in the environment. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Sustainable Agriculture and Soil Conservation)
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Review

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Open AccessReview
Bioremediation of PAH-Contaminated Soils: Process Enhancement through Composting/Compost
Appl. Sci. 2020, 10(11), 3684; https://doi.org/10.3390/app10113684 - 26 May 2020
Cited by 1
Abstract
Bioremediation of contaminated soils has gained increasing interest in recent years as a low-cost and environmentally friendly technology to clean soils polluted with anthropogenic contaminants. However, some organic pollutants in soil have a low biodegradability or are not bioavailable, which hampers the use [...] Read more.
Bioremediation of contaminated soils has gained increasing interest in recent years as a low-cost and environmentally friendly technology to clean soils polluted with anthropogenic contaminants. However, some organic pollutants in soil have a low biodegradability or are not bioavailable, which hampers the use of bioremediation for their removal. This is the case of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), which normally are stable and hydrophobic chemical structures. In this review, several approaches for the decontamination of PAH-polluted soil are presented and discussed in detail. The use of compost as biostimulation- and bioaugmentation-coupled technologies are described in detail, and some parameters, such as the stability of compost, deserve special attention to obtain better results. Composting as an ex situ technology, with the use of some specific products like surfactants, is also discussed. In summary, the use of compost and composting are promising technologies (in all the approaches presented) for the bioremediation of PAH-contaminated soils. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Sustainable Agriculture and Soil Conservation)
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Other

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Open AccessFeature PaperTechnical Note
A Standardized Method for Estimating the Functional Diversity of Soil Bacterial Community by Biolog® EcoPlatesTM Assay—The Case Study of a Sustainable Olive Orchard
Appl. Sci. 2019, 9(19), 4035; https://doi.org/10.3390/app9194035 - 26 Sep 2019
Cited by 2
Abstract
Biolog® EcoPlates™ (Biolog Inc., Hayward, CA, USA) were developed to analyse the functional diversity of bacterial communities by means of measuring their ability to oxidize carbon substrates. This technique has been successfully adopted for studying bacterial soil communities from different soil environments, [...] Read more.
Biolog® EcoPlates™ (Biolog Inc., Hayward, CA, USA) were developed to analyse the functional diversity of bacterial communities by means of measuring their ability to oxidize carbon substrates. This technique has been successfully adopted for studying bacterial soil communities from different soil environments, polluted soils and soils subjected to various agronomic treatments. Unfortunately, Biolog® EcoPlates™ assay, especially working on soil, can be difficult to reproduce and hard to standardize due to the lack of detailed procedures and protocols. The main problems of this technique mainly regard soil preparation, bacterial inoculum densities and a correct definition of blank during the calculation of the diversity indices. On the basis of our previous research on agricultural soils, we here propose a standardized and accurate step-by-step method for estimating the functional diversity of a soil bacterial community by Biolog® EcoPlatesTM assay. A case study of soils sampled in a Mediterranean olive orchard managed accordingly to sustainable/conservation practices was reported for justifying the standardized method here used. The results of this methodological paper could be important for correctly evaluating and comparing the microbiological fertility of soils managed by sustainable/conservation or conventional/non-conservation systems. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Sustainable Agriculture and Soil Conservation)
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