Beyond clay: towards an improved set of variables for predicting soil organic matter content

Abstract

Improved quantification of the factors controlling soil organic matter (SOM) stabilization at continental to global scales is needed to inform projections of the largest actively cycling terrestrial carbon pool on Earth, and its response to environmental change. Biogeochemical models rely almost exclusively on clay content to modify rates of SOM turnover and fluxes of climate-active CO2 to the atmosphere. Emerging conceptual understanding, however, suggests other soil physicochemical properties may predict SOM stabilization better than clay content. We addressed this discrepancy by synthesizing data from over 5,500 soil profiles spanning continental scale environmental gradients. Here, we demonstrate that other physicochemical parameters are much stronger predictors of SOM content, with clay content having relatively little explanatory power. We show that exchangeable calcium strongly predicted SOM content in water-limited, alkaline soils, whereas with increasing moisture availability and acidity, iron- and aluminum-oxyhydroxides emerged as better predictors, demonstrating that the relative importance of SOM stabilization mechanisms scales with climate and acidity. These results highlight the urgent need to modify biogeochemical models to better reflect the role of soil physicochemical properties in SOM cycling.

This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.

Fig. 1
Fig. 2
Fig. 3

References

  1. Amato M, Ladd JN (1992) Decomposition of C-14-labeled glucose and legume material in soils—properties influencing the accumulation of organic residue-c and microbial biomass-c. Soil Biol Biochem 24(5):455–464

    Article  Google Scholar 

  2. Andrews DM, Lin H, Zhu Q, Jin LX, Brantley SL (2011) Hot spots and hot moments of dissolved organic carbon export and soil organic carbon storage in the shale hills catchment. Vadose Zone Journal 10(3):943–954

    Article  Google Scholar 

  3. Asano M, Wagai R (2014) Evidence of aggregate hierarchy at micro- to submicron scales in an allophanic Andisol. Geoderma 216:62–74

    Article  Google Scholar 

  4. Augustin C, Cihacek LJ (2016) Relationships between soil carbon and soil texture in the northern great plains. Soil Sci 181(8):386–392

    Article  Google Scholar 

  5. Buol SW, Eswaran H (2000) Oxisols. In: Sparks DL (ed) Advances in agronomy, vol 68. Academic Press, San Diego, pp 151–195

    Google Scholar 

  6. Buol SW, Southard RJ, Graham RC, McDaniel PA (2011) Soil genesis and classification. Wiley, Hoboken

    Google Scholar 

  7. Burke IC, Yonker CM, Parton WJ, Cole CV, Flach K, Schimel DS (1989) Texture, climate, and cultivation effects on soil organic-matter content in Us grassland soils. Soil Sci Soc Am J 53(3):800–805

    Article  Google Scholar 

  8. Coleman D, Jenkinson DS (1996) RothC-26.3 - A model for the turnover of carbon in soil. In: Powlson DS, Smith P, Smith JU (eds) Evaluation of soil organic matter models : using existing long-term datasets. Springer, Berlin; New York, pp 237–246

    Google Scholar 

  9. Dahlgren RA, Saigusa M, Ugolini FC (2004) The nature, properties and management of volcanic soils. Adv Agron 82(82):113–182

    Article  Google Scholar 

  10. Deng Y, Dixon JB (2002) Soil organic matter and organo-mineral interactions. In: Dixon JB, Schulze DG (eds) Soil Mineralogy with Environmental Applications. Soil Science Society of America, Madison, pp 69–108

    Google Scholar 

  11. Doetterl S, Stevens A, Six J, Merckx R, Van Oost K, Pinto MC, Casanova-Katny A, Munoz C, Boudin M, Venegas EZ, Boeckx P (2015) Soil carbon storage controlled by interactions between geochemistry and climate. Nat Geosci 8(10): 780

  12. Douglas L (1989) Vermiculites. In: Dixon JB, Weed SB, Dinauer RC (eds) Minerals in soil environments. vol no 1. Soil Science Society of America, Madison, Wis., USA. p 635-674

  13. El Swaify SA (1980) Physical and mechanical properties of Oxisols. In: Theng BKG (ed) Soils with variable charge. New Zealand Society of Soil Science, Lower Hutt, pp 303–324

    Google Scholar 

  14. Fierer N, Schimel JP (2002) Effects of drying-rewetting frequency on soil carbon and nitrogen transformations. Soil Biol Biochem 34(6):777–787

    Article  Google Scholar 

  15. Garrido E, Matus F (2012) Are organo-mineral complexes and allophane content determinant factors for the carbon level in Chilean volcanic soils? (vol 92C, pg 106, 2012). CATENA 95:184–184

    Article  Google Scholar 

  16. Harsh J, Chorover J, Nizeyimana E (2002) Allophane and imogolite. In: Dixon JB, Schulze DG (eds) Soil Mineralogy with Environmental Applications. Soil Science Society of America, Madison, pp 291–322

    Google Scholar 

  17. Hassink J (1997) The capacity of soils to preserve organic C and N by their association with clay and silt particles. Plant Soil 191(1):77–87

    Article  Google Scholar 

  18. Hengl T, de Jesus JM, Heuvelink GBM, Gonzalez MR, Kilibarda M, Blagotic A, Shangguan W, Wright MN, Geng XY, Bauer-Marschallinger B, Guevara MA, Vargas R, MacMillan RA, Batjes NH, Leenaars JGB, Ribeiro E, Wheeler I, Mantel S, Kempen B (2017) SoilGrids250 m: Global gridded soil information based on machine learning. Plos One 12(2)

  19. Ito A, Wagai R (2017) Global distribution of clay-size minerals on land surface for biogeochemical and climatological studies. Sci Data 4:

  20. Jobbagy EG, Jackson RB (2001) The distribution of soil nutrients with depth: Global patterns and the imprint of plants. Biogeochemistry 53(1):51–77

    Article  Google Scholar 

  21. Journet E, Balkanski Y, Harrison SP (2014) A new data set of soil mineralogy for dust-cycle modeling. Atmos Chem Phys 14(8):3801–3816

    Article  Google Scholar 

  22. Kahle M, Kleber M, Jahn R (2003) Retention of dissolved organic matter by illitic soils and clay fractions: Influence of mineral phase properties. Journal of Plant Nutrition and Soil Science-Zeitschrift Fur Pflanzenernahrung Und Bodenkunde 166(6):737–741

    Article  Google Scholar 

  23. Kaiser K, Guggenberger G (2000) The role of DOM sorption to mineral surfaces in the preservation of organic matter in soils. Org Geochem 31(7–8):711–725

    Article  Google Scholar 

  24. Kaiser K, Guggenberger G, Haumaier L, Zech W (1997) Dissolved organic matter sorption on subsoils and minerals studied by C-13-NMR and DRIFT spectroscopy. Eur J Soil Sci 48(2):301–310

    Article  Google Scholar 

  25. Kittrick JA (1971) Montmorillonite Equilibria and Weathering Environment. Soil Sci Soc Am Pro 35(5):815–900

    Article  Google Scholar 

  26. Kunhi Mouvenchery Y, Kucerik J, Diehl D, Schaumann GE (2012) Cation-mediated cross-linking in natural organic matter: a review. Rev Environ Sci Bio 11(1):41–54

    Article  Google Scholar 

  27. Laird D (2001) Nature of clay-humic complexes in an agricultural soil: II. Scanning electron microscopy analysis. Soil Sci Soc Am J 65(5):1419–1425

    Article  Google Scholar 

  28. Lawrence C, Harden J, Maher K (2014) Modeling the influence of organic acids on soil weathering. Geochim Cosmochim Acta 139:487–507

    Article  Google Scholar 

  29. Lawrence CR, Harden JW, Xu XM, Schulz MS, Trumbore SE (2015) Long-term controls on soil organic carbon with depth and time: A case study from the Cowlitz River Chronosequence, WA USA. Geoderma 247:73–87

    Article  Google Scholar 

  30. Mathieu JA, Hatte C, Balesdent J, Parent E (2015) Deep soil carbon dynamics are driven more by soil type than by climate: a worldwide meta-analysis of radiocarbon profiles. Glob Change Biol 21(11):4278–4292

    Article  Google Scholar 

  31. Mikutta R, Kleber M, Torn MS, Jahn R (2006) Stabilization of soil organic matter: Association with minerals or chemical recalcitrance? Biogeochemistry 77(1):25–56

    Article  Google Scholar 

  32. Mikutta R, Mikutta C, Kalbitz K, Scheel T, Kaiser K, Jahn R (2007) Biodegradation of forest floor organic matter bound to minerals via different binding mechanisms. Geochim Cosmochim Acta 71(10):2569–2590

    Article  Google Scholar 

  33. Minasny B, Malone BP, McBratney AB, Angers DA, Arrouays D, Chambers A, Chaplot V, Chen ZS, Cheng K, Das BS, Field DJ, Gimona A, Hedley CB, Hong SY, Mandal B, Marchant BP, Martin M, McConkey BG, Mulder VL, O’Rourke S, Richer-de-Forges AC, Odeh I, Padarian J, Paustian K, Pan GX, Poggio L, Savin I, Stolbovoy V, Stockmann U, Sulaeman Y, Tsui CC, Vagen TG, van Wesemael B, Winowiecki L (2017) Soil carbon 4 per mille. Geoderma 292:59–86

    Article  Google Scholar 

  34. Muneer M, Oades JM (1989) The Role of Ca-Organic Interactions in Soil Aggregate Stability. 3. Mechanisms and Models. Aust J Soil Res 27(2):411–423

    Article  Google Scholar 

  35. New M, Hulme M, Jones PD (1999) Representing twentieth century space-time climate variability. Part 1: development of a 1961–90 mean monthly terrestrial climatology. J Clim 12:829–856

    Article  Google Scholar 

  36. Nichols JD (1984) Relation of organic-carbon to soil properties and climate in the southern great plains. Soil Sci Soc Am J 48(6):1382–1384

    Article  Google Scholar 

  37. Oades JM (1988) The retention of organic-matter in soils. Biogeochemistry 5(1):35–70

    Article  Google Scholar 

  38. Olson DM, Dinerstein E, Wikramanayake ED, Burgess ND, Powell GVN, Underwood EC, D’Amico JA, Itoua I, Strand HE, Morrison JC, Loucks CJ, Allnutt TF, Ricketts TH, Kura Y, Lamoreux JF, Wettengel WW, Hedao P, Kassem KR (2001) Terrestrial ecoregions of the worlds: a new map of life on Earth. Bioscience 51(11):933–938

    Article  Google Scholar 

  39. Parton WJ, Schimel DS, Cole CV, Ojima DS (1987) Analysis of factors controlling soil organic-matter levels in great-plains grasslands. Soil Sci Soc Am J 51(5):1173–1179

    Article  Google Scholar 

  40. Percival HJ, Parfitt RL, Scott NA (2000) Factors controlling soil carbon levels in New Zealand grasslands: Is clay content important? Soil Sci Soc Am J 64(5):1623–1630

    Article  Google Scholar 

  41. Rasmussen C, Torn MS, Southard RJ (2005) Mineral assemblage and aggregates control carbon dynamics in a California conifer forest. Soil Sci Soc Am J 69(6):1711–1721

    Article  Google Scholar 

  42. Rasmussen C, Southard RJ, Horwath WR (2006) Mineral control of organic carbon mineralization in a range of temperate conifer forest soils. Glob Change Biol 12(5):834–847

    Article  Google Scholar 

  43. Schimel DS, Braswell BH, Holland EA, Mckeown R, Ojima DS, Painter TH, Parton WJ, Townsend AR (1994) Climatic, edaphic, and biotic controls over storage and turnover of carbon in soils. Global Biogeochem Cycles 8(3):279–293

    Article  Google Scholar 

  44. Shoji S, Nanzyo M, Dahlgren R (1993) Volcanic ash soils—genesis, properties and utilization. Elsevier, Amsterdam

    Google Scholar 

  45. Smith D, Cannon WF, Woodruff LG, Solano F, Ellefsen KJ (2014) Geochemical and mineralogical maps for soils of the conterminous United States. In: Survey USG (ed). U.S. Geological Survey. p 386

  46. Sposito G, Skipper NT, Sutton R, Park SH, Soper AK, Greathouse JA (1999) Surface geochemistry of the clay minerals. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 96(7):3358–3364

    Article  Google Scholar 

  47. Tiessen H, Salcedo IH, Sampaio EVSB (1992) Nutrient and Soil Organic-Matter Dynamics under Shifting Cultivation in Semiarid Northeastern Brazil. Agric Ecosyst Environ 38(3):139–151

    Article  Google Scholar 

  48. Tiessen H, Cuevas E, Chacon P (1994) The Role of Soil Organic-Matter in Sustaining Soil Fertility. Nature 371(6500):783–785

    Article  Google Scholar 

  49. Torn MS, Trumbore SE, Chadwick OA, Vitousek PM, Hendricks DM (1997) Mineral control of soil organic carbon storage and turnover. Nature 389(6647):170–173

    Article  Google Scholar 

  50. von Lützow M, Kögel-Knabner I, Ekschmitt K, Matzner E, Guggenberger G, Marschner B, Flessa H (2006) Stabilization of organic matter in temperate soils: mechanisms and their relevance under different soil conditions—a review. Eur J Soil Sci 57(4):426–445

    Article  Google Scholar 

  51. Wagai R, Mayer LM (2007) Sorptive stabilization of organic matter in soils by hydrous iron oxides. Geochim Cosmochim Acta 71(1):25–35

    Article  Google Scholar 

  52. Wagner S, Cattle SR, Scholten T (2007) Soil-aggregate formation as influenced by clay content and organic-matter amendment. J Plant Nutr Soil Sci 170(1):173–180

    Article  Google Scholar 

  53. Wieder WR, Grandy AS, Kallenbach CM, Taylor PG, Bonan GB (2015) Representing life in the Earth system with soil microbial functional traits in the MIMICS model. Geosci Model Dev 8(6):1789–1808

    Article  Google Scholar 

  54. Wills SA, Burras CL, Sandor JA (2007) Prediction of soil organic carbon content using field and laboratory measurements of soil color. Soil Sci Soc Am J 71(2):380–388

    Article  Google Scholar 

Download references

Acknowledgements

This work was conducted as a part of the “What Lies Below? Improving quantification and prediction of soil carbon storage, stability, and susceptibility to disturbance” Working Group supported by the John Wesley Powell Center for Analysis and Synthesis, funded by the U.S. Geological Survey. Additional support was provided by NSF EAR-1331408 and EAR- 1123454 to Rasmussen, NSF CAREER BCS-1349952 to Marin-Spiotta, US Department of Agriculture NIFA 2015-67003-23485 and US Department of Energy TES DE-SC0014374 to Wieder, and USDA-NIFA Hatch project HAW01130-H to Crow. Any use of trade, firm, or product names is for descriptive purposes only and does not imply endorsement by the U.S. Government.

Author information

Affiliations

Authors

Contributions

This work is the result of two workshops sponsored by the USGS John Wesley Powell Center for Analysis and Synthesis in May of 2016 and May of 2017. The motivation and ideas for this work were generated collaboratively among all authors during these workshops. Rasmussen led manuscript development, data compilation, and analysis. All authors contributed to writing/editing, statistical analyses, and figure development.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Craig Rasmussen.

Additional information

Responsible Editor: Stuart Grandy.

Electronic supplementary material

Below is the link to the electronic supplementary material.

Supplementary material 1 (PDF 1825 kb)

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Rasmussen, C., Heckman, K., Wieder, W.R. et al. Beyond clay: towards an improved set of variables for predicting soil organic matter content. Biogeochemistry 137, 297–306 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10533-018-0424-3

Download citation

Keywords

  • Soil organic matter
  • Biogeochemistry
  • Carbon cycle