The 1930s Dust Bowl proved what a disastrous effect wind can have on dry, unprotected topsoil.
Helping farmers and land managers adopt practices that better conserve soil is one of the main goals of the USDA-ARS team's work. In the Southern High Plains region, for example, intense cultivation of soil combined with a semi-arid climate can result in serious wind erosion problems. In fact, last summer's drought brought Dust Bowl-like conditions to the area.
It can take years, however, for farmers who've adopted new management practices to detect noticeable changes in levels of soil organic matter and other traditional soil quality measures. This is why researchers have been analyzing soils with pyrosequencing, a method that yields a fingerprint of an entire microbial community, and well as identifies specific groups and species of bacteria based on their unique DNA sequences.