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More on soil

Right now I'm working on a manuscript about links between diet, reproduction, lifespan, and life-history strategy in crickets. This involves reading some somewhat dense mechanistic papers that hypothesize about various genetic underpinnings that may influence links among these things. Tedious work.

So naturally, I'm simultaneously thinking about other things. Last Friday, I went to a grad student's presentation about her work to study connections between soil fertility and Orthopteran abundance in a region known as the "peanut basin" in Senegal. Her research project is part of a larger research program spearheaded by an awesome colleague of mine, which is aiming to determine environmental factors that trigger locust swarms, so as to reduce or prevent swarming. For both of us, there are interesting things to be learned from thinking about grasshoppers vs. crickets.

Anyway, the soil fertility aspect of things is also fascinating. Some of the growing fields under study have been in use for agriculture for a very, very long time. The soil texture is quite sandy, and what this means is that a lot of the ideas one might have about crop production based on general assumptions about soil may be wrong. For example, adding in fertilizer to the system won't have nearly as large an impact as building up soil organic matter - fertilizer will basically just wash out of sandy soil when it rains. Then, building up soil organic matter is challenging because of a whole host of demands, including how intensely crop materials are used for non-feed purposes, and I imagine pressure associated with land ownership. Agriculture in this region is also completely dependent on rainfall.

To me, this highlights some of the limits to trying to generalize ideas about sustainable agricultural production. It's no wonder people specialize on just soils. There's a lot to think about, in that realm alone, let alone trying to study connections between soil, plants, and insects.

This entry was originally posted at https://rebeccmeister.dreamwidth.org/1215176.html. Please comment there using OpenID.

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