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ENVS 286S - Principles of Ecology Lab

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Kayla Lowisz
ENVS 286S 001
22 October 2018
Research Proposal 2ndDraft
Research Question: What cover crops work best in enhancing soil quality?
Cover crops are grown to provide ground cover. In addition, they usually offer green
manure between crops and can also be sold for cash (Snapp 322-332). This study will focus on
barley, vetch and fallow cover crops. In this study, I will use various data collection methods
such as primary and secondary sources. The data to be collected will be from barley, vetch and
fallow planted in different areas of the farm. The cover crops will be planted in different parts of
the farm and soil from that particular region will be collected for analysis. The study will involve
the use of information from various recorded sources and obtaining data from 3 selected farms
which grow cover crops. Samples of the soil to be tested will be obtained through the random
sampling procedure, meaning other measures will not be considered when choosing what soil I
conduct my experiment on. I will simply pick the area at random. A primary data collection to
assess soil quality will be done by measuring soil pH, organic carbon, cation exchange capacity
(CEC), and soil infiltration.
The independent variable for this research will be the different types of cover crops
which will be planted while the dependent variable will be the soil. I will work with the
proposition that different cover crops have different abilities to enhance soil quality. As such, it
is expected that the results obtained on soil quality will be different for different cover crops. To
ensure that the data obtained is free from bias, all the soil samples will be collected at the same
time and the cover crops planted will be allowed to grow to the same age.
Soil pH controls bioavailability of nutrients and pollutants. Plants cannot grow in very
acidic soils (pH below 5). Carbon and oxygen absorbed from the air and nitrogen compounds are
the source of plant nutrients. Organic carbon provides food for soil microbes, stabilizes soil
structure, increases water holding capacity, reduces run-off and erosion, and absorbs
contaminants (Dabney, Delgado & Reeves 1221-1250). Cation exchange capacity (CEC) is a
measure of the soil’s ability to hold positively charged ions. This property is extremely important
in influencing soil structure stability, nutrient availability, soil pH, and the soil’s reactions to
fertilizers. Infiltration is the process of water soaking into the soil.Water infiltration is the rate or
amount of water that enters the soil.Infiltration works as a reservoir that stores water for plant
growth. It carries nutrients and organic matter.Any water that does not infiltrate into the soil is
lost from a field as runoff or evaporation. Managing both water infiltration and plant available
water will be key to keeping fieldsproductive, mitigating drought and floods, and reducing soil
loss due to water erosion.
Soil pH will be determined by measuring the concentration of hydrogen ions in soil when
in contact with water. I will mix soil and water in a 1:1 ratio. Dissolving minerals in the soil will
cause chemical reactions and proton exchanges. I will then use a pH probe and pH test kits/strips
to determine the actual pH of the soil. The soil organic carbon will be determined by using the
oxidation method with potassium chromate. This will help me to decide which cover crop
enhances the highest level of oxidation in the soil. CEC will be determined by measuring the
amount of cations that can be absorbed or exchangeable on the negative charge sites of the soil. I
will first need to prepare a reagent and standard solutions. The solutions prepared for this part are
solutions using barium, lanthanum, cesium and standard solutions. The solutions must then be
extracted. They will receive a centrifugal procedure to increase application of dynamic forces
over the different elements of the solution. The cation concentrations will then be analyzed using
an AAS or ICM-MS.
Soil infiltration will be measured directly in the field by making a small ring of about
0.15 m in diameter. The standing vegetation will be cut off at the ground level. The litter will
then be removed from the surface before the rings are placed and measurements taken. This
process will be done for all the cover crops.
Details of Samples
This project focusses on experimenting three cover crops comprising Barley, Vetch and
Fallow. I will obtain the three samples from the farm selected by random sampling. The farm
from which the samples will be selected must meet the following conditions:
Must be growing cover crops.
The crops must have been grown on a period of 40 to 60 days to ensure maturity thus the
accuracy of the results.
I have chosen to collect samples in the period of spring since it’s the time when many farms
grow cover crops and the crops thrive the most. I will collect one soil sample from each cover
crop type on the farm (Wilson & Okigbo 233-250).
Search and Selection Procedure
The research will be conducted by use of both online and search collection approach. The
search procedure will be based on the main topic and keywords of the study aim. It will also
involve the identification of the relevance of the paper to the study. The internet will be used as a
source of information although most of the work will be done on the field. I will record what is
obtained from the field and the internet will be only used for the explanation of technical terms.
To ensure that relevant and credible information is obtained, I will depend on peer-reviewed
sources and trusted websites.
Data analysis is the systematic examination of data for the purpose of exploring theories,
solving operational problems and supporting decisions. The data collected during the research
will be classified in terms of the texture or water holding capacity (infiltration), cation exchange
capacity (CEC) as a measure of soil fertility and surface percentage of organic carbon. The data
will be analyzed using regression where the independent variables will be the different types of
cover crops and the dependent variables the measured soil properties. Graphs will be drawn to
show which cover crop gives the best soil quality. The table in which data will be filled will look
like this:
Soil PHOrganic CarbonCECInfiltration
Mock Graphs
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