RALEIGH — A $700,000 federal grant is helping N.C. State University scientists evaluate how inedible crops planted in the winter can help organic farms make soil healthier and more productive.
The so-called cover crops - inedible varieties of peas and crimson clover - can pull carbon out of the air and sequester it in the soil, said Julie Grossman, assistant professor of soil science at NCSU and primary investigator of the project.
Grossman said the unique ability of legumes to remove nitrogen from the air and use it as a plant nutrient is well known, but the role of legumes in capturing carbon in the soil is far less understood.
The NCSU team will use the U.S. Department of Agriculture grant to study soils used in, or transitioning to, organic production - a growing niche.
Cover crops are planted when cash crops are not in the ground, frequently in the winter, Grossman said. They are especially important in organic farming, which doesn't use synthetic fertilizers or pesticides because they control erosion, provide soil nutrients and reduce pests.
"You will often hear organic farmers use the motto 'Feed the soil, not just the plant,'" Grossman said. "Organic farming has been shown to be extremely beneficial to the soil; our goal is to understand exactly how and to properly manage what we learn."
The study will examine which cover crops are more effective in capturing atmospheric carbon and placing it in the soil, and how the different cover crops interact with tiny soil microbes that aid the process.
It will also compare different methods of killing the cover crop before planting cash crops - rolling or mowing instead of tilling - and how these techniques affect soil carbon levels.
Pet-size dinosaur had really big descendants
Researchers have discovered a small but ferocious dinosaur that lived 230 million years ago, just as dinosaurs were beginning to emerge.
Named Eodromaeus, the creature was about 4 feet long and weighed 10 to 14 pounds, according to a study published in the journal Science
"It was very cute; you'd want it as a pet," said Paul Sereno, paleontologist at the University of Chicago and one of the study's authors. "But it might be best as a guard dinosaur, to keep the dogs away."
That's because the little dinosaur was also a fleet-footed meat eater, with an agile body and long canines that were ideal for digging into prey.
Sereno and his colleagues say they believe the dinosaur, based on its anatomy, was an early ancestor of other theropod dinosaurs, a group that includes Tyrannosaurus rex.
Eodromaeus also resembles the dinosaur Eoraptor in size and structure. But Eoraptor was most likely an early ancestor of sauropods, which included primarily long-necked herbivores.
Both species were small, ran on two legs and lived around the same time, leading the researchers to believe that the common ancestor of all dinosaurs was also just about 4 feet long.
"This gives us the earliest snapshot of dinosaurs," Sereno said.
Eodromaeus and Eoraptor were discovered in the Ischigualasto Formation of Argentina, where Sereno has been involved in excavations for 30 years. New York Times