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Research article - Peer-reviewed, 2022

Farm vehicles approaching weights of sauropods exceed safe mechanical limits for soil functioning

Keller, Thomas; Or, Dani


Mechanization has greatly contributed to the success of modern agriculture, with vastly expanded food production capabilities achieved by the higher capacity of farm machinery. However, the increase in capacity has been accompanied by higher vehicle weights that increase risks of subsoil compaction. We show here that while surface contact stresses remained nearly constant over the course of modern mechanization, subsoil stresses have propagated into deeper soil layers and now exceed safe mechanical limits for soil ecological functioning. We developed a global map for delineating subsoil compaction susceptibility based on estimates of mechanization level, mean tractor size, soil texture, and climatic conditions. The alarming trend of chronic subsoil compaction risk over 20% of arable land, with potential loss of productivity, calls for a more stringent design of farm machinery that considers intrinsic subsoil mechanical limits. As the total weight of modern harvesters is now approaching that of the largest animals that walked Earth, the sauropods, a paradox emerges of potential prehistoric subsoil compaction. We hypothesize that unconstrained roaming of sauropods would have had similar adverse effects on land productivity as modern farm vehicles, suggesting that ecological strategies for reducing subsoil compaction, including fixed foraging trails, must have guided these prehistoric giants.


soil compaction; soil functions; crop productivity; mechanization; dinosaurs

Published in

Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
2022, volume: 119, number: 21, article number: e2117699119

Authors' information

Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Department of Soil and Environment
Or, Dani
Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH Zürich)

UKÄ Subject classification

Soil Science

Publication Identifiers


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