Ecosystem fertility and fallow function in the humid and subhumid tropics
Authors: Szott, L.; Palm, C.; Buresh, R.
Source: Agroforestry Systems, Volume 47, Numbers 1-3, December 1999 , pp. 163-196(34)
Abstract:The regeneration of natural vegetation (fallowing) is a traditional practice for restoring fertility of agricultural land in many parts in the tropics. As a result of increasing human population and insufficient fertilizer inputs, the ecosystem fertility functions of traditional fallows must now be improved upon via the use of managed fallows. Interactions between vegetation and soil determine nutrient losses and gains in crop—fallow systems and are influenced by fallow species, patterns and rates of biomass allocation, and crop and fallow management. Nutrient losses occur through offtake in crop harvests during the cropping phase and through leaching, runoff, and erosion in the cropping phase and the initial stage of fallows $#x2014; when nutrient availability exceeds nutrient demand by vegetation. Gains in nutrient stocks in later stages of fallow are generally more rapid on soils with high than low base status due to greater quantities of weatherable minerals and lack of constraints to N2 fixation, deep rooting, and retrieval of subsoil nutrients by fallow vegetation. On low base status soils (exchangeable Ca < 1 cmolc kg−1), N2 fixation and atmospheric inputs are likely to be the main sources of nutrient additions. On high base status soils limited by N, gains in N stocks by inputs from N2 fixation and retrieval of subsoil nitrate can occur relatively rapidly; hence short-term fallows can often improve crop performance. Large losses of Ca associated with soil organic matter (SOM) mineralization and soil acidification during cropping and fallow establishment, combined with chemical barriers to root penetration, suggest that long-duration fallows (> 5 yr) are needed for recovery of cation stocks and crop performance on low base status soils. On both soils, however, residual benefits of fallows on crop yields usually last less than three crops.
Document Type: Research Article
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Publication date: December 1, 1999