Influence of shrub willow buffers strategically integrated in an Illinois corn-soybean field on soil health and microbial community composition

Colleen Zumpf, Jules Cacho, Nora Grasse, John Quinn, Jarrad Hampton-Marcell, Abigail Armstrong, Patty Campbell, M. Cristina Negri, D. K. Lee

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Soil serves many important ecological functions and is an integral part of our existence as a society. However, concerns for soil health are growing globally, in part due to the negative impacts of agricultural management on soil resources. The production of perennial bioenergy crops on marginal land in row-crop production systems is one solution that could improve land-use efficiency and address the sustainability of cropland management. Because the relationship between crop management and the environment is complex, more research is needed to evaluate the potential benefits perennial bioenergy crop production has on soil health, as well as other ecosystem services. In this study, shrub willow buffers were strategically integrated into a corn-soybean cropping system with the main objective of reducing nitrate-N leaching from grain crop production while producing biomass for bioenergy. Two buffer systems (defined by landscape positions) were included for comparison, one on marginal land with exposure to nitrate-N leaching from upslope grain (southern plots) and one on fertile soils with less nitrate-N leaching potential (northern plots). Evaluation of soil (chemistry, bulk density, microbial community) and shrub willow vegetation properties (fine roots, leaf litter decomposition, and nutrient uptake dynamics), showed that landscape position plays an important role in (1) the dynamics of soil chemical properties, (2) shrub willow's influence and productivity, and (3) the provision of additional ecosystem services such as reductions in nitrous oxide emissions and nitrate-N leaching. In addition, the combination of crop type and landscape position (N-grain, N-willow, S-grain, and S-willow) influenced the species composition of the soil microbial community, resulting in unique and identifiable communities. These results highlight the potential application of shrub willow buffers for ecosystem service provision and support of ecosystem processes; however, understanding the relationship between the microbial community, crop type, and landscape is important for understanding the sustainability of the design.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number145674
JournalScience of the Total Environment
StatePublished - Jun 10 2021


  • Bioenergy crops
  • Ecosystem services
  • Landscape design
  • Marginal land
  • Nutrient cycling
  • Row crop production systems

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Environmental Engineering
  • Environmental Chemistry
  • Waste Management and Disposal
  • Pollution


Dive into the research topics of 'Influence of shrub willow buffers strategically integrated in an Illinois corn-soybean field on soil health and microbial community composition'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this