Environmental, Social, and Management Drivers of Soil Nutrient Mass Balances in an Extensive Andean Cropping System
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- Vanek, S.J. & Drinkwater, L.E. Ecosystems (2013) 16: 1517. doi:10.1007/s10021-013-9699-3
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Sustainable nutrient cycling in agroecosystems combining grazing and crops has global ramifications for protecting these ecosystems and for the livelihoods they support. We sought to understand environmental, management, and social drivers of nutrient management and sustainability in Andean grazing/crop systems. We assessed the impact of farmer wealth, fields’ proximity to villages, topography, and rangeland net primary productivity (NPP) on mass balances for nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), and potassium (K) of 43 fields. Wealthier farmers applied greater total amounts (kg) of manure nutrients. However, higher manure application rates (kg ha−1) were associated with field proximity and NPP rather than wealth. Manure P inputs in far fields (> 500-m distant) were half those in near fields. Harvest exports increased with manure inputs (P < 0.001) so that balances varied less than either of these flows. Erosion nutrient losses in steeper far fields matched crop exports, and yields declined with increasing field slope (P < 0.001), suggesting that erosion reduces productivity. Balances for P were slightly positive in near and far fields (+2.2 kg P ha−1 y−1, combined mean) when calculated without erosion, but zero in near fields and negative in far fields with erosion included (−6.1 kg P ha−1 y−1 in far fields). Near/far differences in both inputs and erosion thus drove P limitation. Crop K exports dominated K balances, which were negative even without accounting for erosion. Modeled intensification scenarios showed that remediating far field deficits would require P addition and erosion reduction. Management nested within environmental constraints (NPP, erosion) rather than socioeconomic status drives soil nutrient sustainability in these agroecosystems. Time-lags between management and long-term degradation are a principal sustainability challenge to farming in these montane grazing/crop agroecosystems.