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Soil

Science Spotlights

Looking up at western larches changing color.
Concern about changing climate is focusing attention on how silvicultural treatments can be used to regenerate or restore forested landscapes. In this study we leveraged a 30-year-old forest management-driven experiment to explore the recovery of woody species composition, regeneration of the charismatic forest tree species western larch, and vegetation and soil carbon and nitrogen pools. 
A measuring tool encircles a young ponderosa pine
Ponderosa pine seedling establishment can be constrained following especially large, high-severity wildfires. Young seedlings face high mortality levels in the first few years and remain vulnerable to the next fire until they are taller. Understanding attributes associated with the growth of naturally regenerating seedlings that survive 10+ years postfire is useful in developing post-fire management strategies.
The cover of : Forest and Rangeland Soils of the United States Under Changing Conditions: A comprehensive science synthesis
A new, open-access book synthesizes current research and management information on forest and rangeland soils, offers ways to understand changing conditions and their impact on soils, and explores directions to positively affect future forest and rangeland soil health in the face of these impacts.  
Termites feeding on decaying wooden stake.
Termites alter wood and coarse root decomposition by direct feeding, and they may directly or indirectly change fungal community structure and activity, which can also alter wood decay. Their contributions to belowground decay and organic matter movement within the soil may be a critical piece of information for understanding how long roots may last in the soil and when steep slopes may fail.
Pump jacks harvest oil and gas resources from grasslands.
Major U.S. energy sources – fossil fuels (coal, oil, natural gas), biofuels (ethanol), and wind – are concentrated in grassland ecosystems of the Great Plains. This research synthesized potential ecological effects and mitigation opportunities during renewable and non-renewable energy development in the Great Plains.  
Photo of rangeland with scattered brown grasses in brown soil.
The epic droughts of 2018 in the southwestern US devastated landscapes and economies alike. The Rangeland Production Monitoring System was used to help the Natural Resources Conservation Service and Farm Service Agency identify the most affected areas and seek emergency funding to facilitate re-seeding efforts. 
Photo of a scientists in a recently burned forest.
Fire impacts on wood decomposition are important for understanding site-specific changes in soil carbon, the factors that control decomposition, and how they are affected by forest management. A recent study shows that wood decomposition in mineral soil can be quite rapid after a high-severity wildfire in two Montana forests. The researchers attributed these findings to the higher mineral soil temperatures in the burned area where there is no...
A fire burning on grassland.
Natural wildfires have been important in creating and maintaining grassland ecosystems for millions of years, and prescribed fire is an important component of modern grassland management. Land managers want to understand the effects of fire on grasslands and the ecosystem services they provide, particularly as wildfires become more frequent due to drought.
Mycorrhizal fungi attach to the roots of plants and produce fruiting bodies called sporocarps, or mushrooms.  Pines such as these ponderosa pine seedlings rely on these ectomycorrhizal fungi to provide them extra water and nutrients.  Photo by Suzanne Owe
Soil fungi are important components of the soil microbial community that influence ecosystem resilience and stability after disturbances such as fire. Ectomycorrhizal (EM) fungi increase water and nutrient uptake for their plant hosts in return for carbon. Saprotrophic fungi play an important role in nutrient cycling and are responsible for decomposing wood, plant litter, and soil organic matter. 
Woody residues resulting from harvest operations in Mississippi
Land managers recognize that maintaining soil health during harvest operations is important for ensuring hydrologic function, nutrient cycling, vegetative regrowth, and stable carbon reserves. However, during salvage logging operations many of these values may be at risk because of soil disturbance associated with equipment movement on a site. Communicating with specialists about the importance of maintaining soil quality resulted in very little...

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