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Advances in Agriculture
Volume 2014, Article ID 384604, 13 pages
Review Article

Managing Soil Biota-Mediated Decomposition and Nutrient Mineralization in Sustainable Agroecosystems

Department of Natural Resource Sciences, McGill University, Macdonald Campus, 21111 Lakeshore Road, Ste-Anne-de-Bellevue, QC, Canada H9X 3V9

Received 30 June 2014; Revised 13 October 2014; Accepted 17 October 2014; Published 13 November 2014

Academic Editor: Elke Bloem

Copyright © 2014 Joann K. Whalen. This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.


Transformation of organic residues into plant-available nutrients occurs through decomposition and mineralization and is mediated by saprophytic microorganisms and fauna. Of particular interest is the recycling of the essential plant elements—N, P, and S—contained in organic residues. If organic residues can supply sufficient nutrients during crop growth, a reduction in fertilizer use is possible. The challenge is synchronizing nutrient release from organic residues with crop nutrient demands throughout the growing season. This paper presents a conceptual model describing the pattern of nutrient release from organic residues in relation to crop nutrient uptake. Next, it explores experimental approaches to measure the physical, chemical, and biological barriers to decomposition and nutrient mineralization. Methods are proposed to determine the rates of decomposition and nutrient release from organic residues. Practically, this information can be used by agricultural producers to determine if plant-available nutrient supply is sufficient to meet crop demands at key growth stages or whether additional fertilizer is needed. Finally, agronomic practices that control the rate of soil biota-mediated decomposition and mineralization, as well as those that facilitate uptake of plant-available nutrients, are identified. Increasing reliance on soil biological activity could benefit crop nutrition and health in sustainable agroecosystems.