Biology and Fertility of Soils

, Volume 54, Issue 5, pp 671–681 | Cite as

Distribution and thermal stability of physically and chemically protected organic matter fractions in soils across different ecosystems

  • Beatrice Giannetta
  • César Plaza
  • Costantino Vischetti
  • M. Francesca Cotrufo
  • Claudio ZacconeEmail author
Original Paper


Accrual of carbon (C) and nitrogen (N) in soil is a significant and realizable management option to mitigate climate change; thus, a clear understanding of the mechanisms controlling the persistence of C and N in soil organic matter (SOM) across different ecosystems has never been more needed. Here, we investigated SOM distribution between physically and chemically stabilized fractions in soils from a variety of ecosystems (i.e., coniferous and broadleaved forest soils, grassland soils, technosols, and agricultural soils). Using elemental and thermal analyses, we examined changes in the quantity and quality of physically fractionated SOM pools characterized by different mechanisms of protection from decomposition. Independently of the ecosystem type, most of the organic C and total N were found in the mineral-associated SOM pool, known to be protected mainly by chemical mechanisms. Indexes of thermal stability and C/N ratio of this heavy SOM fraction were lower (especially in agricultural soils) compared to light SOM fractions found free or occluded in aggregates, and suggested a marked presence of inherently labile compounds. Our results confirm that the association of labile organic molecules with soil minerals is a major stabilization mechanism of SOM, and demonstrate that this is a generalizable finding occurring across different mineral soils and ecosystems.


Soil organic matter Soil N Physical fractionation C sequestration TGA Technosols 



The authors thank the Soil Staff “Monitoraggio Suoli” of the Regione Marche (Italy) for the support in soil samples collection and classification, and Dr. Esther G. López-de-Sá, CSIC, for the help during lab activities.


This research was supported by the Spanish Ministry of Economy and Competitiveness, grants AGL2013-48681 and AGL2016-75762.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Agricultural, Food and Environmental SciencesPolytechnic University of MarcheAnconaItaly
  2. 2.Instituto de Ciencias Agrarias, Consejo Superior de Investigaciones CientíficasMadridSpain
  3. 3.Department of Soil and Crop Sciences & Natural Resources Ecology LaboratoryColorado State UniversityFort CollinsUSA
  4. 4.Department of the Sciences of Agriculture, Food and EnvironmentUniversity of FoggiaFoggiaItaly

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