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Humans are in a struggle to care for the environment while also feeding the entire world’s population. Farming practices, such as planting cover crops, that build soil organic matter (SOM) can both increase yields and alleviate environmental problems that result from agriculture. We worked to enhance the positive effect of cover crops on SOM by increasing the biodiversity within cover crop mixes. Increasing the number of species of cover crops could produce more biomass that would decompose and add to soil organic matter. This study uses particulate organic matter (POM), partially decomposed plant tissue, as an indicator of soil organic matter. We observed how different cover crop treatments changed the quantity and composition of POM. To examine POM, we isolated it from soil samples by size fractionation and used combustion analysis to determine the carbon and nitrogen content. Initial analyses indicate that there are differences in POM-C concentrations among cover crop treatments, but species richness of a cover crop mixture appears to have little effect on the amount of POM that is implemented into the soil. These results indicate that there may be differences in how various species contribute to the building of SOM over a period of time. Knowledge of the effects of cover crops on SOM will enable farmers to design and implement cropping systems that are not only productive but also healthy for the environment.
Cherneskie, Kirk R., "The Effect of Cover Crops on Particulate Organic Matter" (2017). Biology Summer Fellows. 45.