Date of Award

7-2019

Degree Name

MS in Agriculture - Soil Science

Department

Earth and Soil Sciences

Advisor

Dr. Cristina Lazcano

Abstract

Evaluating soil health using bioindicator organisms has been suggested as a method of analyzing the long-term sustainability of agricultural management practices. The main objective of this study was to determine the effects of vineyard management strategies on soil food web structure and function, using nematodes as bioindicators by calculating established nematode ecological indices. Three field trials were conducted in a commercial Pinot Noir vineyard in San Luis Obispo, California; the effects of (i) fertilizer type (organic and inorganic), (ii) weed management (herbicide and tillage), and (iii) cover crops (high or low water requirements) on nematode community structure, soil nutrient content, and crop quality and yield were analyzed. Overall, although nematode ecological indices indicated that all plots had disturbed soil food webs, the indices proved to be less useful for measuring subtle differences in soil management over the short-term than anticipated. They showed few differences treatments. In general, the most pronounced differences were seen by sample location (under the vine or in the tractor row) and sample date, rather than treatment. None of the evaluated strategies affected crop quality, although fertilizer had a slight effect on yield. However, several indices were correlated with soil chemical parameters, including pH, nitrogen, carbon, and, to a lesser extent, EC. These results indicate that while nematode indices can be useful for comparing the state of the soil food web under long-term soil conditions, they may not be a robust measure of how agricultural management practices change soil health over a single growing season.

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