Hostname: page-component-5d59c44645-l48q4 Total loading time: 0 Render date: 2024-02-24T16:32:42.023Z Has data issue: false hasContentIssue false

Integrative biological indicators for detecting change in soil quality

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  30 October 2009

E.L. Ndiaye
E.L. Ndiaye is Soil Scientist, Institut Senegalis de Recherches Agricola (ISRA), Dakar, Senegal, West Africa;
J.M. Sandeno
Senior Faculty Research Assistant, Department of Crop and Soil Science, Oregon State University, Corvallis, OR 97331;
D. McGrath
Associate Professor, Horticulture Extension, Oregon State University Extension Service, Salem, OR 97301;
R.P. Dick*
Professor of Soil Science, Department of Crop and Soil Science, Oregon State University, Corvallis, OR 97331.
Corresponding author is R.P. Dick (
Get access


To promote agricultural sustainability, there is a growing interest in developing soil quality indicators that can be used as early indicators of changes in management practices by growers, agricultural professionals, and researchers. A study was conducted on four commercial growers' fields and two research stations in western Oregon with treatments that had been started from 1 to 7 years prior to initiating the investigation. The primary comparison at each site was a winter cover crop and winter fallow in rotation with summer vegetable crops. The effects of these treatments on microbial biomass carbon (MBC), mineralizable N, soil enzyme activity (arylsulfatase and β-glucosidase), and cotton strip decomposition were analyzed to monitor changes in soil quality over a 2-year period. The cotton strip method was tested because of its simplicity (buried in soil for short periods and then assessed for tensile strength or weight loss) and potential as a soil biological indicator. Results showed that cover cropping significantly affected MBC and soil enzyme activity. Mineralizable N and CO2 respiration (laboratory incubation) did not respond to winter cover crop treatment. Cotton strip decomposition was relatively insensitive to field treatments. Because MBC and β-glucosidase activity responded quickly to field management treatment and were less variable than the other measurements, they showed the most potential as soil quality indicators. Total C (organic matter index) and extractable nutrients were not significantly affected by cover cropping (even after 7 years), indicating selected biological properties are superior to these chemical properties for detecting effects of soil management.

Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2000

Access options

Get access to the full version of this content by using one of the access options below. (Log in options will check for institutional or personal access. Content may require purchase if you do not have access.)


1.Bandick, A.K., and Dick, R.P.. 1999. Field management effects on soil enzyme activities. Soil Biol. Biochem. 31:14711479.Google Scholar
2.Bolton, H. Jr., Elliott, L.F., Papendick, R.I., and Bezdicek, D.F.. 1985. Soil microbial biomass and selected soil enzyme activities: Effect of fertilization and cropping practices. Soil Biol. Biochem. 17:297302.Google Scholar
3.Brookes, P.C. 1995. The use of microbial parameters in monitoring soil pollution by heavy metals. Biol. Fertil. Soils 19:269279.Google Scholar
4.Buchanan, M., and King, L.D.. 1992. Seasonal fluctuations in soil microbial biomass carbon, phosphorus, and activity in no-till and reduced-chemicalinput maize agroecosystems. Biol. Fertil. Soils 13:211217.Google Scholar
5.Burket, J.Z., Hemphill, D.D. Jr., and Dick, R.P.. 1997. Winter cover crops and nitrogen management in sweet corn and broccoli rotations. HortSci. 32:664668.Google Scholar
6.Campbell, C.A., Biederbeck, V.O., Zentner, R.P., and LaFond, G.P.. 1991. Effects of crop rotations and cultural practices on soil organic matter, microbial biomass and respiration in a thin Black Chernozem. Can. J. Soil Sci. 71:363376.Google Scholar
7.Collins, H.P., Rasmussen, P.E., and Douglas, C.L. Jr., 1992. Crop rotation and residue management effects on soil carbon and microbial dynamics. Soil Sci. Soc. Am. J. 56:783788.Google Scholar
8.Dick, R.P. 1994. Soil enzyme activities as indicators of soil quality. In Doran, J.W., Coleman, D.C., Bezdicek, D.F., and Stewart, B.A. (eds.). Defining Soil Quality for a Sustainable Environment. Spec. Pub. 35. Soil Science Society of America, Madison, WI. p. 107124.Google Scholar
9.Dick, R.P., Breakwill, D., and Turco, R.. 1996. Soil enzyme activities and biodiversity measurements as integrating biological indicators. In Doran, J.W., and Jones, A.J.. (eds.). Methods for Assessing Soil Quality. Spec. Pub. 49. Soil Science Society of America, Madison WI. p. 247272.Google Scholar
10.Doran, J.W., and Parkin, T.B.. 1994. Defining and assessing soil quality. In Doran, J.W., Coleman, D.C., Bezdicek, D.F., and Stewart, B.A. (eds.). Defining Soil Quality for a Sustainable Environment. Spec. Pub. 35. Soil Science Society of America, Madison, WI. p. 321.Google Scholar
11.Goyal, S., Mishra, M.M., Dhankar, S.S., Kapoor, K.K., and Batra, R.. 1993. Microbial biomass turnover and enzyme activities following the application of farmyard manure to field soils with and without previous longterm applications. Biol. Fertil. Soils 15:6064.Google Scholar
12.Heichel, G.H., and Barnes, D.K.. 1984. Opportunities for meeting crop nitrogen needs from symbiotic nitrogen fixation. In Bezdicek, D.F., and Power, J.F. (eds.). Organic Farming: Current Technology and its Role in a Sustainable Agriculture. Spec. Pub. 46. American Society of Agronomy, Madison, WI. p. 4959.Google Scholar
13.Jenkinson, D.S., and Powlson, D.S.. 1976. The effect of biocidal treatments on metabolism in soil-V: A method for measuring soil biomass. Soil Biol. Biochem. 8:209213.Google Scholar
14.Jordan, D., and Kremer, R.J.. 1994. Potential use of soil microbial activity as an indicator of soil quality. In Pankhurst, C.E., Doube, B.M., Gupta, V.V.S.R., and Grace, P.R.. (eds.). Soil Biota Management in Sustainable Farming Systems. Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization, E. Melbourne, Victoria, Australia. p. 243249.Google Scholar
15.Keeney, D.R. 1982. Nitrogen—availability indices. In Page, A.L., Miller, R.H., and Keeny, D.R. (eds.). Methods of Soil Analysis. 2nd ed. Part 2, Chemical and Microbiological Properties. Agron. Monogr. 9. American Society of Agronomy and Soil Science Society of America, Madison, WI. p. 711733.Google Scholar
16.Kuprevich, V.F., and Shcherbakova, T.A.. 1971. Comparative enzymatic activity in diverse types of soil. In McLaren, A.D., and Skujins, J.J. (eds.). Soil Biochemistry. Vol. 2. Marcel Dekker, New York. p. 167201.Google Scholar
17.Lynch, J.M., and Panting, L.M.. 1980. Cultivation and the soil biomass. Soil Biol. Biochem. 12:2933.Google Scholar
18.Miller, M., and Dick, R.P.. 1995a. Dynamics of soil C and microbial biomass in whole soil aggregates in two cropping systems. Appl. Soil Ecol. 2:253261.Google Scholar
19.Miller, M., and Dick, R.P.. 1995b. Thermal stability and activities of soil enzymes as influenced by crop rotation. Soil Biol. Biochem. 27:11611166.Google Scholar
20.Minshew, H.F. 1999. Nitrate leaching and model evaluation under winter cover crops. M.S. thesis. Oregon State University, Corvallis, OR.Google Scholar
21.National Soil Survey Center. 1996. Soil survey laboratory methods manual. Ver. 3.0. Soil Survey Investigations Rep. 42. Lincoln, NE.Google Scholar
22.Perucci, P. 1992. Enzyme activity and microbial biomass in a field amended with municipal refuse. Biol. Fertil. Soils 14:5460.Google Scholar
23.Powlson, D.S., Brookes, P.C., and Christensen, B.T.. 1987. Measurement of soil microbial biomass provides an early indication of changes in total soil organic matter due to straw incorporation. Soil Biol. Biochem. 19:159164.Google Scholar
24.Rosek, M.J., Gardner, J.C., and Miller, B.S.. 1996. Influence of tillage and cropping system on litter bag and cotton strip decomposition. Proc. Soil Quality: A Guide to Conservation Workshop, July 17–18, Ames, Iowa.Google Scholar
25.Tabatabai, M.A. 1994. Soil enzymes. In Weaver, R.W., Angle, J.S., and Bottomley, P.S. (eds.). Methods of Soil Analysis. Part 2, Microbiological and Biochemical Properties. Book Series 5. Soil Science Society of America, Madison, WI. p. 775833.Google Scholar
26.Voroney, R.P., and Paul, E.A.. 1984. Determination of kc and kN in situ for calibration of the chloroform fumigation-incubation method. Soil Biol. Biochem. 16:914.Google Scholar
27.Williamson, J.R. 1994. Calico cloth decomposition as an indicator of topsoil health. In Pankhurst, C.E., Doube, B.M., Gupta, V.V.S.R., and Grace, P.R.. (eds.). Soil Biota Management in Sustainable Farming Systems, Poster Workshop Proc., March 15–18, Adelaide, S. Australia. Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization Information Services, E. Melbourne, Victoria, Australia. p. 163165.Google Scholar