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Soil biology in Australian farming systems.

Soil is literally teeming with life. A handful of soil contains billions of individual organisms represented by several thousand to millions of species. Despite these vast numbers less than 1% of the soil's total surface area is colonised by microorganisms (Young and Crawford 2004). The distribution of soil biota is heterogeneous within this three-dimensional environment with population increases occurring where substrates are available for growth and activity. Biological processes in soil are therefore inextricably linked to the location, quantity and quality of available organic carbon resources and nutrients in soil. Release of organic compounds into soil by plant roots provides not only an important substrate for microorganisms but also exert significant influence on soil biota by altering their environment within the rhizosphere. This can be both beneficial and detrimental to the plant depending on which species of soil biota proliferate. Plant inputs and soil organic matter turnover provide the available carbon required to maintain soil biological activity. Of particular interest in an agricultural context is the role of microorganisms as a source, sink and regulator of nutrients that may become plant available or lost to the environment. Variability in environmental conditions and, in particular a lack of rainfall for extended periods of time, is a major constraint to the survival and functioning of soil biological communities in many parts of Australia. How soil biota survive, reproduce and die within this complex physico-chemical matrix is still an area of great scientific interest and many questions remain unanswered. However, research has been aided in recent years through advancement in the analytical techniques required to assess specific microscopic, biochemical, functional and molecular characteristics of soil biology. These advances have enabled researchers to shift focus from not only identifying and classifying the types of organisms present but to an assessment of the contribution of biological processes and community structure to key soil functions and plant growth.

Within the overriding constraints of the environment and inherent soil properties agricultural management practices ultimately seek to increase or optimise plant and animal productivity whilst minimising on-site and off-site environmental impact. Soil biology has always been recognised as a key to this objective in sustainable agricultural systems (Pankhurst et al. 1994; Abbott and Murphy 2003; Lines-Kelley 2004) and it is currently enjoying a resurgence of interest particularly within the farming community. The key question to answer for the farming community is to what extent can soil biology contribute to the economic imperative of productivity gains whilst ensuring that agricultural systems maintain environmental integrity. This special edition addresses this key question in light of soil biology research currently underway in Australia.

References

Abbott LK, Murphy DV (Eds) (2003) 'Soil biological fertility--A key to sustainable land use in agriculture.' (Kluwer Academic Publishers: Dordrecht, The Netherlands)

Lines-Kelly R (Ed.) (2004) Soil biology in agriculture. In 'Proceedings of a Workshop on Current Research into Soil Biology in Agriculture'. Tamworth Sustainable Farming Training Centre, 11-12 August 2004. (NSW Department of Primary Industries: Orange, Australia)

Pankhurst CE, Doube BM, Gupta WSR, Grace PR (Eds) (1994) 'Soil biota--Management in sustainable farming systems.' (CSIRO Publishing: Melbourne)

Young IM, Crawford JW (2004) Interactions and self-organisation in the soil-microbe complex. Science 304, 1634-1637.

Daniel V. Murphy (A), John A. Kirkegaard (B), and Pauline M. Mele (C)

(A) School of Earth and Geographical Sciences, Faculty of Natural and Agricultural Sciences, University of Western Australia, 35 Stirling Highway, Crawley, WA 6009, Australia.

(B) CSIRO Plant Industry, GPO Box 1600, Canberra, ACT 2601, Australia.

(C) Primary Industries Research Victoria (PIRVic), Department of Primary Industries Rutherglen Centre, RMB 1145 Chiltern Valley Road, Rutherglen, Vic. 3685, Australia.
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Article Details
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Title Annotation:Preface
Author:Murphy, Daniel V.; Kirkegaard, John A.; Mele, Pauline M.
Publication:Australian Journal of Soil Research
Geographic Code:8AUST
Date:Nov 1, 2006
Words:594
Previous Article:Conferences in 2006.
Next Article:Rhizosphere biology and crop productivity--a review.
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