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Microclimate effects of crop residues on biological processes

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Residues from crops left on the soil surface have an impact on the microclimate, primarily temperature, within the soil and the atmosphere; but, the impact on the biological system is largely unknown. Residue is assumed to have a positive impact on the biological system in the soil and a negative impact on crop growth. This report investigates the effect of standing residue on the microclimate surrounding a cotton (Gossypium hirsutum L.) crop in a semi-arid environment and the effect of flat residue on the seasonal soil temperature and soil water regimes in a humid climate with a corn (Zea mays L.) and soybean [Glycine max (L.) Merr.] production system. A study was conducted during 1987 and 1988 in a semi-arid climate at Lubbock, Texas using standing wheat stubble to shelter cotton from wind. In this study soil water, microclimatic variables, and plant growth were measured within standing stubble and bare soil during the early vegetative growth period. Air temperatures were warmer at night within the standing residue and the air more humid throughout the day. This led to a reduction in the soil water evaporation rate and an increase in the water use efficiency of the cotton plant within the stubble. Studies on corn residue with continuous corn and corn-soybean rotations with no-till, chiselplow, and moldboard plow tillage practices in central Iowa showed that the average soil temperatures in the upper soil profile were not affected by the presence of flat residue after tillage. Diurnal temperature ranges were most affected by the residue throughout the year. The largest effect of the residue on soil temperature was in the fall after harvest when no-till fields cooled more slowly than tilled fields. In the spring, surface residue decreased the soil water evaporation rate and increased the soil water storage within the soil profile covered with residue. In years with below normal rainfall, the additional stored soil water due to the surface residue was used by the plant to maintain transpiration rates at optimal levels during the early vegetative growth period. The biological implications of crop residue on the soil surface can be more positive than negative and increasing our understanding of the physical environment and biological system interactions will lead to improved resource management.

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Hatfield, J.L., Prueger, J.H. Microclimate effects of crop residues on biological processes. Theor Appl Climatol 54, 47–59 (1996). https://doi.org/10.1007/BF00863558

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  • Soil Water
  • Soil Temperature
  • Crop Residue
  • Diurnal Temperature Range
  • Soil Water Storage