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Biodiversity Strategy Action Plan – West Bengal

Biodiversity Strategy Action Plan – West Bengal

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BIODIVERSITY STRATEGY ACTION PLAN – WEST BENGAL 
Agricultural Ecosystems
8. SOIL BIODIVERSITY 
Biodiversity is the abundance of variability existingamong living organisms be it plants, animals,microorganisms or the whole ecosystem of which theyare a part. Progress of industrial civilisation, rapid growthof human population and excessive exploitation of earth’sresources have led to dwindling of earth’s biodiversity.Biodiversity programmes up till now are mostly centredon plants, animals and insects, with little attention givento microorganisms, in general, and soil microorganismsin particular. Soil biodiversity is largely due to soil bioticcommunity comprising various micro and macroorganisms. The described microbial phenomenon andrange of diversity of microorganisms in soil are perhapsonly a fraction of biodiversity present in soils of the world(Kennedy and Smith, 1995). The difficulties incataloguing the full range of soil microbial diversity lies inthe construction of culture media suitable for growth of each species and strain that occur in soil. At the presentlevel of expertise, only less than 1.0% of soil microbescan be cultured (Pace, 1997)Soil is a natural habitat of diverse groups of organismsranging from tiny bacteria to large earthworm. Thisdiversity is indispensable for sustainability in productionsystem on the one hand and maintenance of soil healthon the other. The accelerating over-exploitation of soildue to intensification of agriculture resulting in habitatdestruction and chemical pollution and overall ecologicalcrisis created by man have threatened the existingbiodiversity of soil, in other words the whole lifesupporting system of soil.Diversity within the soil organisms maintains thesustainability and productivity of the soil ecosystem. Thehigh species diversity may be instrumental in cycling andrecycling of nutrients and energy and thereby achievingthe stability of the soil ecosystem. The diverse group of soil organisms is not only pivotal in nutrients availabilitybut also in maintaining different trophic relationshipsamong the existing soil population. There is a definiterelationship among the soil organisms synergistic,antagonistic or neutral - in a well-managed agro-ecosystem. Soil flora, particularly fungi by their enormousmycelial hyphae entangle the soil particles and improvesoil aggregation, which in turn improves soil aeration,infiltration and root elongation. Rhizospheremicroorganisms, particularly plant growth-promotingrhizobacteria (PGPR) by their release of growthpromoting substances help the crops to sustain even instress conditions. Vesicular-arbuscular mycorrhizal fungiby their elaborating phosphate acquisition and moistureconservation system help the establishment of plants indegraded ecosystem. A diverse group of soilmicroorganisms are endowed with the capacity of detoxication of wide range of unwanted and unnaturalcompounds called xenobiotics which agricultural soilreceives enormously every season in the form of pesticides. Microbial oxidation sometimes modifies theoxidation state of some heavy metals received from citycompost, sewage-sludge and thereby convert them toless toxic state. Soil biota thus perform a myriad of activities beneficial to human beings.The state of West Bengal has a unique geographicalsetting in terms oagro-climatic conditions. The hilly mountain and Terairegion in the north, alluvial tract in the middle, red andlateritic zone in the west and coastal saline zone in thesouth with wide range of soils gives a diversification inagro-ecosystem. The diversity of soil organisms mayincrease or decrease due to occurrence of differentlandforms that constitute various ecological niches for different communities. The soil distribution in WestBengal has been given in
Colour Plate III and
for area of broad classes/association of soils in differentdistricts see
Annexure IX
.Information regarding the occurrence and distribution of diverse groups of soil organisms under different agro-ecosystem of West Bengal is not comprehensive. Most of our present knowledge has accumulated from studiesconducted with specific organisms or individual groups of organisms. Scientific efforts to elucidate interconnectionsor interactions among organisms and their activitieswhich are responsible for operation of soil ecosystemsare also little. However, some information regarding thequantitative and qualitative composition of soil flora andfauna are available which may highlight mainly theorganism load under different agro-ecological conditionsof the state.
107
 
 Agricultural Ecosystems
BIODIVERSITY STRATEGY ACTION PLAN – WEST BENGAL 
The relative abundance of soil microflora primarilydepends on the moisture, pH and organic matter contentof soil. In general, the soils of Nadia, which represent thenew alluvial zone, rear maximum bacterial andactinomycetal diversity owing to slightly alkaline reaction(pH 7.7) favourable for their development (
Table XL
).On the other hand, saline soils representative of coastalzone support minimum diversity of those organisms dueto high osmotic potential and some adverse ionic effects.Lateritic soil, representative of red lateritic zone,however, is enriched with fungal diversity (Mukherjee etal., 1999). In acid soils of northern districts of WestBengal actinomycetal diversity is relatively less owing tounfavourable pH condition. Although rhizobial diversityunder acid soil is high but their symbiotic effectiveness islow (
Table XLI
) and hence pulse cultivation in acid soilis restricted to some extent. Reports (De, 1954) suggestthat
 Azotobacter 
is not universally present in the acidsoil; pH may be the limiting factor for their sustenance inthis soil.
Beijerinckia 
have, however, been observed insome acid soils. Information indicates that more than50% of rice soil of West Bengal, in spite of havingfavourable pH, does not harbour 
 Azotobacter 
. Even inthose soils where
 Azotobacter 
is present, the number isgenerally small (Bhattacharya, 1958) as also their species richness (
Table XLII
), the population of 
 A.Chroococcum 
being the single dominant species.
 A.indicum,
which is later renamed as A.
Beijerinckia 
is veryscarce. In rice ecosystem photosynthetic heterocystsbearing cyanobacterial appearance is a uniquephenomena. Reports (Saha, 1979) suggest that themajority of the cyanobacterial abundance in alluvial soilof West Bengal is restricted to the family
Nostocaceae 
,with
Nostoc 
,
 Anabaena 
and
Cylindrospermum 
being byfar the most frequently observed genera. The other dominant genera are
Calothrix 
,
Mastigocladus 
and
Scytonema 
found in some alluvial soils (
Table XLIII
).Under acid soils,
Nostoc 
and
 Anabaena 
may be foundbecause they are seen to have tolerance to a wider range of pH (5.0 to 10.5) and to be ubiquitous in allregions in varying proportions. Plant parasitic nematodesinfestation is gaining importance under rice basedcropping system. Nematode diversity increases if nematode susceptible crops are included in croppingsystem (Mukherjee and Khan, 2000) (
Table XLIV
and
XLV
).The component of biodiversity of soils whether beingbeneficial or harmful, undergoes a quick shift uponperturbations or anthropogenic activities likemanagement practices including intensive land clearing,tillage, puddling, monoculture, use of fertilisers,pesticides, sewage-sludge and inoculation of exotichighly competitive organisms etc. Hassink et al (1991)showed the rhizospheric community was affected mostby management practices. Alternative managementpractices such as minimum tillage or no tillage, croprotation, organic matter application, integrated nutrient –pest management, mulching, agro-forestry systemimproved and preserved soil biodiversity when comparedwith the previous detrimental practices.West Bengal has a vast area of land where rice-ricesystem is followed. Excessive ploughing and ladderingduring puddling destroy structural stability leading tocompaction and hardpan formation under such system.Diffusion of air to such soil is restricted. A distinctmicrobial shift is obvious. Aerobic flora and faunadisappear while facultative and obligate anaerobesproliferate. Fungal flora falls dramatically whereasmicroaerophilic
 Azospirillum 
population predominatesand strict aerobes like
 Azotobacter 
mostly disappear.Photosynthetic blue-green algae with lot of diversityappear profusely in such puddled rice soil (
TableXLIII
).In red-lateritic, coastal saline and acidic alluvial zones of West Bengal monocropping is usually practiced. Under such system the total carbohydrate fraction of soilorganic carbon (SOC) is exhausted compared to that of native (barren) soil resulting in reduction omacroaggregates, the habitat of microbial population.Thus soil structure is modified or in extreme casesdestroyed. This habitat destruction under monocroppingleads to poor microbial diversity. Continuousmonocropping encourages less variability among themicrobes around the rhizosphere due to less variation inrhizodeposition. On the other hand, monocrop helps tobuild up root associated pathogenic organisms. Whereas,crop rotation with suitable crops increases soil organicmatter, balances uptake of nutrients, diversifiesrhizodepositions and breaks the root associatedpathogenic incidence. Although a balanced fertilisation at field dose is notharmful to soil organisms, but nature of fertiliser used
108
 
BIODIVERSITY STRATEGY ACTION PLAN – WEST BENGAL 
Agricultural Ecosystems
dictates how it influences the soil biodiversity. For example, there are evidences that long-term applicationof (NH
4
)
2
SO
4
develops acidity in the soil. On the other hand use of NaNO
3
on long-term basis results indeterioration of soil stability and soil structure bydispersing the clay colloids. Thus fertiliser applicationcauses alteration in soil condition in respect to microbialgrowth and development. On the other hand, fertiliser byits ionic effects and osmotic pressure reduces microbialdiversity. Generally speaking, where fertiliser applicationincreases plant growth, the effect on soil macrofauna,notably earthworm, is also favourable (Fraser, 1994).However, earthworms are very sensitive to soil pH, sothat the repeated addition of ammonia-based fertilisers topoorly buffered soils may be harmful to earthworms.Nitrogeneous fertilisers at field dose increase activeprotozoa population (Griffiths, 1990) but high levels of nitrogenous fertiliser (120 kg/ha) reduces the same.There are several reports of decreased nematodesdiversity after application of ammonium-based fertiliser.Fertiliser consumption in West Bengal is high whencompared to our national figure. Such high application of fertiliser may have shifted population dynamics of different soil biota. However, no information is available inthis respect.Soil biology remains in an equilibrium state. Thisequilibrium is disturbed when an exogenous material likepesticides is introduced (Alexander, 1977). There aresome pesticides, which have o effect on microbialdiversity (Bollag and Liu, 1990) while others exertdeleterious effect on micro-organisms (Das andMukherjee, 2000; Mukherjee et al., 200). In an alluvialsoil of West Bengal under rice ecosystem insecticideslike hexachlorocyclohexane (HCH), phorate, carbofuranand fenbalerate, in general, significantly increased totalbacteria, fungi, actinomycetes and phosphatesolubilisers. While the effect of carbofuran on thediversity of nitrogen fixing bacteria was not significant(Das and Kukherjee, 1995) (
Table XLVI
). Insecticides,in general did not bring about much quantitative changein the microbial community in the rice rhizosphere. Among the organisms studied
 Azotobacter 
disappearedunder the influence of phorate and fenvalerate while
Diplococcus 
and
Lactobacillus 
appeared under phorateand fenvalerate, respectively (
Table XLVII
). Among theactinomycetes diversity.
Streptomyces 
were highlystimulated while those of 
Nocardia 
and
Micromonospora 
were reduced (
Table XLVII
).When pesticides are applied to soils in very highconcentrations, microbial composition significantlychanges. Indiscriminate pesticides application causes atremendous reduction in earthworm population. Althoughsingle application of pesticides have shown minimalaffect on soil biological properties, it may be moreimportant to consider the effect of repeated applicationover many years. West Bengal is a state of high croppingintensity. In the north tea is the main commercial crop,which receives wide range of pesticides. In the southfield and horticultural crops receive variety of pesticides.Farmers very often indiscriminately use pesticides thatmay create soil and environmental pollution leading todestruction of non-target beneficial microbial pool.The effect of most of herbicides on soil flora is more or less temporal at recommended dose. But blanketapplication of herbicides can upset the microbial ecologyin soil and change the useful flora.Inoculated organisms, if competitive enough, sometimesalter the microbial composition of native soils. Introducedorganisms may be synergistic, antagonistic or neutral.Consequently, the native flora may be accelerated,retarded or remain static. Reports (Saha, 2000) suggest
109

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