Long-term soil experiments: Keys to managing Earth's rapidly changing ecosystems

Daniel deB. Richter, Michael Hofmockel, Mac A. Callaham, David S. Powlson, Pete Smith

Research output: Contribution to journalLiterature review

179 Citations (Scopus)


To meet economic and environmental demands for about 10 billion people by the mid-21st century, humanity will be challenged to double food production from the Earth's soil and diminish adverse effects of soil management on the wider environment. To meet these challenges, an array of scientific approaches is being used to increase understanding of long-term soil trends and soil-environment interactions. One of these approaches, that of long-term soil experiments (LTSEs), provides direct observations of soil change and functioning across time scales of decades, data critical for biological, biogeochemical, and environmental assessments of sustainability; for predictions of soil productivity and soil-environment interactions; and for developing models at a wide range of scales. Although LTSEs take years to mature, are vulnerable to loss, and have yet to be comprehensively inventoried or networked, LTSEs address a number of contemporary issues and yield data of special significance to soil management. The objective of this study was to evaluate how LTSEs address three questions that fundamentally challenge modern society: how soils can sustain a doubling of food production in the coming decades, how soils interact with the global C cycle, and how soil management can establish greater control over nutrient cycling. Results demonstrate how LTSEs produce significant data and perspectives for all three questions. Results also suggest the need for a review of the state of our long-term soil-research base and the establishment of an efficiently run network of LTSEs aimed at soil-management sustainability and improving management control over C and nutrient cycling.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)266-279
Number of pages14
JournalSoil Science Society of America Journal
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2007


  • organic-matter dynamics
  • ameliorating subsoil acidity
  • atmospheric carbon-dioxide
  • broadbalk wheat experiment
  • fine-root production
  • experimental-forest
  • climate-change
  • chemical-properties
  • microbial biomass
  • sulfur deposition


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