||Densely populated and intensively cropped, the subtropical highlands of the world have severe agricultural sustainability problems resulting from soil erosion and fertility decline. In 1991, the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) initiated a long-term field experiment with zero tillage under rainfed conditions at its semi-arid highland experiment station in Mexico (2240 m asl; 19.318N, 98.508W; Cumulic Phaeozem) to evaluate the effects of tillage, residue management, and rotation on maize and wheat production. Long-term effects on root rot and nematode populations ? and their possible detrimental effects on yield ? were monitored from 1998 to 2003 to evaluate the sustainability of the cropping system. In general, wheat showed less root rot incidence than maize. Crop residue retention reduced the numbers of the nematode Pratylenchus thornei in both crops, as did zero tillage compared with conventional tillage. Conventional tillage with continuous maize and residue removal, the common farmer practice in this region, reduced yield and dramatically increased P. thornei. Zero tillage with residue removal resulted in low values for yield, root rot, and nematode populations, especially under maize monoculture. Under zero tillage and residue retention, root rot incidence in maize was moderate, parasitic nematode numbers were low, and yield was highest compared to alternative practices. In wheat, the highest yields were observed under zero tillage and residue retention, with intermediate root rot incidence. Zero tillage with rotation and residue retention enhanced water availability, soil structure, and nutrient availability more than conventional tillage. Microbial life diversity increased under zero tillage and residue retention, which may useful for biological control and integrated pest management.