Soil Microbial Indicators

Soil Microbial Indicators: what do they mean and how can they be used?

Project Funder: Soil CRC

Project Lead Organisation/Researcher: NSW DPI, Professor Mick Rose

Project Duration: December 2021 – December 2024

Project Locations: Gunning Gap, NSW


The project aims to resolve the mechanisms by which diversity of plants species in rotation or as inter/cover crops shape soil rhizosphere processes and drive soil function, and how species diversity interacts with soil water, weed pressures and ultimately crop yields/farm profitability based on long-term field experiments in contrasting farming systems and soil types across the Grower Group networks in Australia. It aims to quantify benefits to soil processes, root function and nutrient cycling across soil types/climatic zones from the inclusion of crop diversity (summer cover crops in winter cropping systems, inter-crops in cane systems, perennial legumes). The project will also provide understanding of how novel crop diversity in winter and summer cropping systems affect rhizosphere soil function, seasonal soil moisture dynamics and crop yields/profitability over 3-4 seasons.

Description and background

Although there is a recognition amongst farmers and scientists that soil biology is the most important component in healthy soil but selecting what to measure and getting a clear image of data has always been confounding. This project will apply a range of soil biology metrics (composition of the microbial population, functions that they perform, microbial food source) that have been proposed both in Australia and internationally (e.g., USDA) as indicators of soil health and assess their relevance to agronomic or environmental outcomes. Samples will be taken across broad spatial and temporal scales to determine whether relationships between indicators and functions can be generalised or whether they are only site- or seasonally specific. The outcome will be improved knowledge and use of soil microbial indicators to drive agronomic decision-making to increase agricultural productivity and resilience to environmental stresses such as drought.

Reports & Media Releases


This project is a partnership between Soil CRC, NSW DPI, Southern Cross University, Central West Farming Systems, Birchip Cropping Group, PISRA (SARDI), Griffith University, WNRM and NGA