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Quantitative Analysis of Pedogenic Thresholds and Domains in Volcanic Soils

  • Jesse Bloom BatemanEmail author
  • Oliver A. Chadwick
  • Peter M. Vitousek


Pedogenic thresholds describe where soil properties or processes change in an abrupt/nonlinear fashion in response to small changes in environmental forcing. Contrastingly, soil process domains refer to the space between thresholds where soil properties are either unchanged, or change gradually, across a broad range of environmental forcing. Here, we test quantitatively for the presence of thresholds in patterns of soil properties across a climatic gradient on soils developed from about 20-ky-old basaltic substrate on the Island of Hawai’i. From multiple soil properties, we quantitatively identified a threshold at about 750 mm/y of water balance (precipitation minus potential evapotranspiration), delineating the upper water balance boundary of soil fertility in these soils. From the threshold in the ratio of exchangeable Ca to total Ca, we identified the lower water balance boundary of soil fertility in these soils at − 1000 mm/y; however, this threshold was qualitatively described as it lies near the limit of the climate gradient data where the statistical approach cannot be applied. These two results represent the first time that pedogenic thresholds have been identified using statistically rigorous methods and the limitations of said methods, respectively. Comparing the 20-ky soils to soils that developed on basaltic substrates of 1.2 ky, 7.5 ky, 150 ky, and 4100 ky in a time–climate matrix, we found that our quantitative analysis supports previous qualitatively identified thresholds in the soils developed from older substrates. We also identified the 20 ky as the transition from kinetic to supply limitation for plant nutrients in soil in this system.


Hawai’i pedogenic thresholds process domains water balance volcanic soil biological uplift pedogenesis breakpoints 



We thank the many people who contributed to this article. This project was funded by NSF Grants ETBC-1020791 and ETBC-1019640, the Department of Earth System Science, and Stanford School of Earth Energy and Environmental Sciences. Jesse Bloom Bateman is a postdoctoral fellow supported by UPLIFT: UCLA Postdocs’ Longitudinal Investment in Faculty (Award # K12 GM106996) during the revision phase of this manuscript. We thank Palani Akana and Amy Kim for their assistance in collecting samples; Zhareen Bulalacao, Doug Turner, and Guangchao Li for their assistance with analyzing the samples; and Harmony Lu, Kabir Peay, and Pamela Matson for their insightful comments on a draft of this manuscript.

Supplementary material

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© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Earth System ScienceStanford UniversityStanfordUSA
  2. 2.Institute of the Environment and SustainabilityUniversity of CaliforniaLos AngelesUSA
  3. 3.Department of GeographyUniversity of CaliforniaSanta BarbaraUSA
  4. 4.Department of BiologyStanford UniversityStanfordUSA

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