Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Cropland diversity reduces nitrogen pollution

12.02.2009
Biodiversity in crops decreases fertilizer damage to rivers and lakes
Researchers have identified a link between the diversity of crops grown in farmlands and the pollution they create in lakes and rivers. In a Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment e-View paper, ecologists show that when the biodiversity of crops is high, less dissolved nitrogen is found exiting the surrounding watersheds.

Nitrogen from agricultural fertilizers leaches through soils to groundwater and runs off into rivers and lakes, increasing aquatic dissolved nitrate. Too much nitrate in the water can lead to prolific growth of aquatic algae, which can use up most of a water body's oxygen when they die and are decomposed, creating "dead zones" that cannot support life.

Whitney Broussard of the University of Louisiana at Lafayette and R. Eugene Turner of Louisiana State University at Baton Rouge compiled data from the past 100 years on watersheds varying in size from the Illinois Cache River basin (400 square miles) to the Mississippi River Basin (more than a million square miles). The researchers compared this watershed data with land-use practices since the early 1900s.

The results show that since the beginning of the last century, the average farm size in the United States has doubled and the number of farms has fallen by almost two-thirds. Broussard also says that a shift from farm animals and simple plows to the use of machines to till croplands has changed not only the culture but the environmental impact of farming.

"With the growing American farm comes the necessity to use more industrialized means of farming," says Broussard. "Our agricultural practices have always impacted water quality, but over the past century the mechanization of agriculture and the use of more potent fertilizers has caused a greater effect: the nitrogen leakage rate is higher."

Modern farms tend to produce fewer crop varieties; this lower crop biodiversity can negatively impact surrounding watersheds. According to the study, within a given area, a higher biodiversity of crops led to less dissolved nitrogen in surrounding water bodies. The explanation for this phenomenon, Broussard says, is difficult to discern.

"Diverse farms tend to have smaller fields with more edges, which can mean there's a greater buffering effect on nitrogen runoff by surrounding grasslands or woodlands," he says.

The researchers' results also showed that since 1906, the average aquatic nitrate concentration increased threefold in the entire U.S. and tenfold in the Iowa, Des Moines, and Minnesota Rivers, all of which fall in heavily tilled agricultural areas.

In areas where farming is scarce or absent, however, the authors found no perceptible change in dissolved nitrogen concentrations since the early 1900s. Broussard thinks this indicates that the impacts might be reversible if policy changes included incentives for farmers to rotate more crops, decrease their field size, increase the edges of fields and sizes of buffering zones, and incorporate more native perennial grasses into farms and in between fields.

"There has been great progress made to reduce the footprint of agriculture, but there is still room for improvement," says Broussard. "The American farmer is caught in a mode of production that has tremendous momentum and cannot be changed on the farm – it's a policy question now."

Christine Buckley | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.esa.org

More articles from Ecology, The Environment and Conservation:

nachricht Dune ecosystem modelling
23.06.2017 | Albert-Ludwigs-Universität Freiburg im Breisgau

nachricht Understanding animal social networks can aid wildlife conservation
23.06.2017 | Leibniz-Institut für Gewässerökologie und Binnenfischerei (IGB)

All articles from Ecology, The Environment and Conservation >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Can we see monkeys from space? Emerging technologies to map biodiversity

An international team of scientists has proposed a new multi-disciplinary approach in which an array of new technologies will allow us to map biodiversity and the risks that wildlife is facing at the scale of whole landscapes. The findings are published in Nature Ecology and Evolution. This international research is led by the Kunming Institute of Zoology from China, University of East Anglia, University of Leicester and the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research.

Using a combination of satellite and ground data, the team proposes that it is now possible to map biodiversity with an accuracy that has not been previously...

Im Focus: Climate satellite: Tracking methane with robust laser technology

Heatwaves in the Arctic, longer periods of vegetation in Europe, severe floods in West Africa – starting in 2021, scientists want to explore the emissions of the greenhouse gas methane with the German-French satellite MERLIN. This is made possible by a new robust laser system of the Fraunhofer Institute for Laser Technology ILT in Aachen, which achieves unprecedented measurement accuracy.

Methane is primarily the result of the decomposition of organic matter. The gas has a 25 times greater warming potential than carbon dioxide, but is not as...

Im Focus: How protons move through a fuel cell

Hydrogen is regarded as the energy source of the future: It is produced with solar power and can be used to generate heat and electricity in fuel cells. Empa researchers have now succeeded in decoding the movement of hydrogen ions in crystals – a key step towards more efficient energy conversion in the hydrogen industry of tomorrow.

As charge carriers, electrons and ions play the leading role in electrochemical energy storage devices and converters such as batteries and fuel cells. Proton...

Im Focus: A unique data centre for cosmological simulations

Scientists from the Excellence Cluster Universe at the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität Munich have establised "Cosmowebportal", a unique data centre for cosmological simulations located at the Leibniz Supercomputing Centre (LRZ) of the Bavarian Academy of Sciences. The complete results of a series of large hydrodynamical cosmological simulations are available, with data volumes typically exceeding several hundred terabytes. Scientists worldwide can interactively explore these complex simulations via a web interface and directly access the results.

With current telescopes, scientists can observe our Universe’s galaxies and galaxy clusters and their distribution along an invisible cosmic web. From the...

Im Focus: Scientists develop molecular thermometer for contactless measurement using infrared light

Temperature measurements possible even on the smallest scale / Molecular ruby for use in material sciences, biology, and medicine

Chemists at Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz (JGU) in cooperation with researchers of the German Federal Institute for Materials Research and Testing (BAM)...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Plants are networkers

19.06.2017 | Event News

Digital Survival Training for Executives

13.06.2017 | Event News

Global Learning Council Summit 2017

13.06.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Quantum thermometer or optical refrigerator?

23.06.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

A 100-year-old physics problem has been solved at EPFL

23.06.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

Equipping form with function

23.06.2017 | Information Technology

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>