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American Bison on the Great Plains grasslands
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2023: Improving Soil Health Across the Great Plains of North America

The productive soils of the North American central grasslands are crucial to the global food system, acting also as a sponge for human carbon emissions and scarce precipitation. But as long-term, chronic poor agricultural practices have impacted soil health throughout the region, remnants of minimally disturbed grasslands provide valuable insights into how healthy soils can be sustainably maintained or restored. A team of natural resource and soil scientists will establish demonstration sites centered on remnant grasslands in three different regions of the Great Plains, working with local landowners to sample the soil and nearby working agricultural lands. Soil health data will be used to develop a scorecard assessing (1) drought vulnerability based on water storage capacity, (2) soil carbon sequestration potential based on the total soil organic carbon content, and (3) soil biological health, using the Cornell Soil Health Laboratory protocols for microbial health. Subsequent outreach in each region will use the scorecards as a lens through which to guide the adoption of improved management.

Investigators: Rebecca Schneider, Stephen Morreale, Harold van Es, Andrew Trlica (Cornell CALS/Natural Resources & the Environment), and Tammy VerCauteren (Bird Conservancy of the Rockies/Grasslands Roadmap Initiative)

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