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National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis

Project Description

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), adopted in 2015, establish a clear mandate to manage the planet for both human and environmental wellbeing. Any viable approach to achieving the SDGs requires addressing soil, which is the foundation of both healthy natural and agricultural ecosystems. Soil organic matter (SOM) is an especially important soil property because it is the principle arbiter of soil health and is one of the most responsive soil properties to land management. Management of SOM can increase agricultural productivity (SDGs 1, 2), remove carbon (C) from the atmosphere (SDG 13), and ensure water systems that are safe for human consumption and that support thriving aquatic biodiversity (SDGs 6, 14). Some forms of land management can degrade SOM, causing release of large quantities of C to the atmosphere, lower soil productivity, contaminate drinking water with excess farm nutrients, and cause eutrophication of aquatic ecosystems, which leads to biodiversity declines. Successfully managing soils for environmental and human wellbeing requires reliable estimates of how much SOM can be built up at any given site and how much SOM is needed to achieve target outcomes for nature and people. In this project, we will synthesize existing data to develop global estimates of how much SOM can be built up under ideal conditions. We will use these broad-level targets as a starting point to develop site-specific targets for SOM build up, and then quantify the relationship between SOM management and human and environmental outcomes for two projects within The Nature Conservancy—1) carbon sequestration and sustainable livestock production in California rangelands and 2) crop yield and nutrient and sediment retention through the Soil Health Partnership in the U.S. Midwest. We will then develop specific strategies for each program to integrate soil-based targets into their activities.

Principal Investigator(s)

Stephen A. Wood

Project Dates

Start: January 1, 2017

End: December 31, 2019



Lesley Atwood
University of California, Santa Barbara
Deborah Bossio
The Nature Conservancy
Mark A. Bradford
Yale University
Cara Byington
The Nature Conservancy
Chelsea J. Carey
Point Blue Conservation Science
Larry Clemens
The Nature Conservancy
Joseph E. Fargione
The Nature Conservancy
Eli P. Fenichel
Yale University
Jonathan Fisher
The Nature Conservancy
Emma Fuller
Sasha Gennett
The Nature Conservancy
Nick Goeser
National Corn Growers Association
Kelly Gravuer
The Nature Conservancy
Daniel Kane
Yale University
Rodd Kelsey
The Nature Conservancy
Johannes Lehmann
Cornell University
Shefali V. Mehta
University of Minnesota, Twin Cities
Emily E. Oldfield
Yale University
Elsa Ordway
Stanford University
Cheryl Palm
Universty of Florida
Leslie Roche
University of California, Davis
Joe Rudek
Environmental Defense Fund
Jonathan Sanderman
Woods Hole Research Center
Stephen A. Wood
Yale University


  1. Data Set / 2020

    AgEvidence: Agro-environmental responses of conservation agricultural practices in the US Midwest published from 1980 to 2017.

  2. Journal Article / 2019

    Soil carbon science for policy and practice

  3. Journal Article / 2020

    Supporting evidence varies for rangeland management practices that seek to improve soil properties and forage production in California

  4. Journal Article / 2019

    Organic amendment additions to rangelands: A meta analysis of multiple ecosystem outcomes

  5. Journal Article / 2021

    Soil organic matter protects US maize yields and lowers crop insurance payouts under drought

  6. Journal Article / 2019

    Global meta-analysis of the relationship between soil organic matter and crop yields

  7. Software / 2018

    BibScan R Package

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