Sampling Soils in a Heterogeneous Research Plot

Jianwei Li, Tennessee State University


Soils are highly heterogeneous. In general, the number of soil samples required for soil research has always been determined arbitrarily and the associated accuracy is unknown. Here, we present a detailed protocol for efficient and clustered soil sampling in a research plot and, relying on a pilot sampling using this design, for demonstrating soil spatial heterogeneity and informing reasonable sample sizes and associated accuracy for future study. The protocol mainly comprises four steps: sampling design, field collection, soil analysis, and geostatistical analysis. The step-by-step procedure is modified according to former publications. Two examples will be presented to demonstrate contrasting spatial distributions of soil organic carbon (SOC) and soil microbial biomass carbon (MBC) under different management practices. In addition, we present a strategy to determine the sample size requirement (SSR) given a certain level of accuracy based on the plot-level coefficient of variation (CV). The field sampling protocol and the quantitative determination of the sample size will assist researchers in seeking feasible sampling strategies to meet research needs and resources' availability.