Phytochemistry Reviews

, Volume 17, Issue 4, pp 815–832 | Cite as

Linking plant phytochemistry to soil processes and functions: the usefulness of 13C NMR spectroscopy

  • Fabrizio Cartenì
  • Tushar C. Sarker
  • Giuliano Bonanomi
  • Gaspare Cesarano
  • Alfonso Esposito
  • Guido Incerti
  • Stefano Mazzoleni
  • Virginia Lanzotti
  • Francesco Giannino


The organic matter cycle is one of the most fundamental processes in ecosystems affecting the soil and controlling its functions. The soil complex microbiome is made up of thousands of bacterial and hundreds of fungal strains that coexist on the many different available organic carbon sources. In natural plant communities, freshly fallen leaf-litter and dead roots are subject to decomposition by a complex food-web composed of both microbial saprotrophs and invertebrate detritivores. The litter chemical composition varies dramatically among species in relation to plant life forms (conifer, broadleaf, nitrogen-fixing, graminoid) and, within species, with plant organs (leaf, root, woody tissues). This paper reviews the usefulness of advanced chemical technologies to study the composition of both plant litter and organic amendments, supporting the description of their mechanism of action and attention to their potential applications. First, a critical review is presented on the limitations of C/N and lignin/N ratios, still widely used as basic indicators of litter chemistry. Second, the potential of the solid state 13C-CPMAS NMR is reported as a powerful tool to assess the chemical composition of both litter and organic amendments. Finally, six different study cases are reported to provide evidence of the usefulness of such metabolomic approach for the description of organic matter chemistry aimed to an effective prediction of its impact on soil ecosystem functions.


Soil microbiome Litter decomposition Soil structural stability Phytoxicity Disease suppression Soil water repellency Soil fungistasis 


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Authors and Affiliations

  • Fabrizio Cartenì
    • 1
  • Tushar C. Sarker
    • 1
  • Giuliano Bonanomi
    • 1
  • Gaspare Cesarano
    • 1
  • Alfonso Esposito
    • 2
  • Guido Incerti
    • 3
  • Stefano Mazzoleni
    • 1
  • Virginia Lanzotti
    • 1
  • Francesco Giannino
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Agricultural SciencesUniversity of Naples Federico IIPorticiItaly
  2. 2.Centre for Integrative BiologyUniversity of TrentoTrentoItaly
  3. 3.Di4A, Department of Agri-Food, Animal and Environmental SciencesUniversity of UdineUdineItaly

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