The effects of irrigation-induced salinity and sodicity on the size and activity of the soil microbial biomass in vertic soils on a Zimbabwean sugar estate were investigated. Furrow-irrigated fields were selected which had a gradient of salinity and sugarcane yield ranging from good cane growth at the upper ends to dead and dying cane at the lower ends. Soils were sampled under dead and dying cane, poor, satisfactory and good cane growth and from adjacent undisturbed sites under native vegetation. Electrical conductivity (EC) and sodium adsorption ratio (SAR) of saturation paste extracts was measured, as well as the exchangeable sodium percentage (ESP). There was a significant negative exponential relationship between EC and microbial biomass C, the percentage of organic C present as microbial biomass C, indices of microbial activity (arginine ammonification and fluorescein diacetate hydrolysis rates) and the activities of the exocellular enzymes β-glucosidase, alkaline phosphatase and arylsulphatase but the negative relationships with SAR and ESP were best described by linear functions. By contrast, the metabolic quotient increased with increasing salinity and sodicity, exponentially with EC and linearly with SAR and ESP. Potentially mineralizable N, measured by aerobic incubation, was also negatively correlated with EC, SAR and ESP. These results indicate that increasing salinity and sodicity resulted in a progressively smaller, more stressed microbial community which was less metabolically efficient. The exponential relationships with EC demonstrate the highly detrimental effect that small increases in salinity had on the microbial community. It is concluded that agriculture-induced salinity and sodicity not only influences the chemical and physical characteristics of soils but also greatly affects soil microbial and biochemical properties.
Soil Biology and Biochemistry – Elsevier
Published: Jun 1, 2003
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