Effects of Cover Cropping, Solarization, and Soil Fumigation on Nematode Communities

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Impacts of sustainable soil-borne pest management strategies on the soil ecosystem were compared to that of methyl bromide fumigation using nematode community analysis. A field experiment was conducted in 2003 and repeated in 2004. Soil treatments carried out in summer months included methyl bromide (MB) fumigation, solarization (S) for 6 weeks, cowpea (Vigna unguiculata) cover cropping for 3 months (CP), combination of solarization and cowpea cover cropping (S + CP), and a weedy fallow throughout the summer used as a control (C). All treated plots were planted to pepper (Capsicum annuum) after the application of the treatments at the end of the summer. In general, responses of nematode communities to soil treatments were more obvious at pepper planting than at 4 months after planting. In 2003, initial population densities of bacterivores and fungivores at pepper planting followed a hypothesized pattern of MB > S > S + CP > CP > C. However, this perturbation did not persist after a cycle of vigorous growth of a pepper crop. Omnivorous nematodes were the most sensitive nematode trophic group, with impact from soil treatment lasting until the end of the pepper crop. Nematode community indices such as ratio of fungivores to fungivores plus bacterivores, richness, and structure index were especially useful in detecting impacts by the various soil treatments. While disturbance from MB on the nematode communities lasted at least until the end of the pepper crop, that from the solarization often reduced or disappeared at the end of the experiment. The CP treatment enhanced many of the beneficial nematodes but failed to suppress the final population densities of herbivorous nematodes at pepper harvest (Pf). However, CP + S consistently reduced the Pf of herbivores to levels equivalent to MB in both years, whereas, this level of suppression could not be achieved by either CP or solarization alone.

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