Relating soil microbial properties to yields of no-till canola on the Canadian prairies.

Lupwayi, N.Z., Harker, K.N., O'Donovan, J.T., Turkington, T.K., Blackshaw, R.E., Hall, L.M., Willenborg, C.J., Gan, Y.T., Lafond, G.P., May, W.E., and Grant, C.A. (2015). "Relating soil microbial properties to yields of no-till canola on the Canadian prairies.", European Journal of Agronomy, 62, pp. 110-119. doi : 10.1016/j.eja.2014.10.004  Access to full text


Soil microorganisms mediate many important biological processes for sustainable agriculture. However, correlations between soil microbial properties and crop productivity cannot always be demonstrated. We collected soil microbial data from a canola (Brassica napus L.) study that was conducted at seven sites on the Canadian prairies about agricultural practices focused on increasing canola yields. The treatments consisted of two canola seeding rates (75 or 150 seeds m−2), two nitrogen rates (1× and 1.5× soil test recommendation) and three nitrogen form–fungicide (prothioconazole) combinations (uncoated urea, no fungicide; uncoated urea + fungicide; and 50% polymer-coated urea + fungicide) in a 2 × 2 × 3 factorial arrangement. Microbial biomass C (MBC), β-glucosidase enzyme activity and functional bacterial diversity (based on C substrate utilization patterns) were determined in canola rhizosphere and in bulk soil and related to canola yields. The effects of seeding rate, nitrogen (N) rate and N form on soil microbial biomass, enzyme activity or bacterial functional diversity were usually not statistically significant. In the few cases where significance occurred, doubling the seeding rate from 75 to 150 seeds m−2 usually increased these microbial properties in canola rhizosphere or bulk soil. Increasing N rate to 1.5× the recommended rate had mostly positive effects in canola rhizosphere and negative effects in bulk soil. The effects of N form (including addition of fungicide) were inconsistent. Soil MBC and β-glucosidase enzyme activity correlated positively with canola grain yield at the five sites where yields were <4000 kg ha−1(r = 0.51** to 0.76**), but no or weak negative correlations were observed at the two sites with yields >4000 kg ha−1. The functional diversity of soil bacteria was not or was weakly negatively correlated with grain yields. Some of these relationships appeared to be influenced by canola root maggot damage because root damage was usually negatively correlated with the soil microbial characteristics, but the correlations were too weak to be relevant. These results suggest underground feedback interactions between crops and soil microbes, i.e., crop/soil management practices that enhance crop growth also enhance soil microbial communities and their activities, and vice versa.

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