Plant and Soil

, Volume 246, Issue 2, pp 185–200 | Cite as

Short-term effects of biological and physical forces on aggregate formation in soils with different clay mineralogy

  • Karolien Denef
  • Johan Six
  • Roel Merckx
  • Keith Paustian


The mechanisms resulting in the binding of primary soil particles into stable aggregates vary with soil parent material, climate, vegetation, and management practices. In this study, we investigated short-term effects of: (i) nutrient addition (Hoagland's solution), (ii) organic carbon (OC) input (wheat residue), (iii) drying and wetting action, and (iv) root growth, with or without dry–wet cycles, on aggregate formation and stabilization in three soils differing in weathering status and clay mineralogy. These soils included a young, slightly weathered temperate soil dominated by 2:1 (illite and chlorite) clay minerals; a moderately weathered soil with mixed [2:1 (vermiculite) and 1:1 (kaolinite)] clay mineralogy and oxides; and a highly weathered tropical soil dominated by 1:1 (kaolinite) clay minerals and oxides. Air-dried soil was dry sieved through a 250 μm sieve to break up all macroaggregates and 100 g-subsamples were brought to field capacity and incubated for 42 days. After 14 and 42 days, aggregate stability was measured on field moist and air-dried soil, to determine unstable and stable aggregation respectively. In control treatments (i.e., without nutrient or organic matter addition, without roots and at constant moisture), the formation of unstable and stable macroaggregates (> 250 μm) increased in the order: 2:1 clay soil < mixed clay soil < 1:1 clay soil. After 42 days of incubation, nutrient addition significantly increased both unstable and stable macroaggregates in the 2:1 and 1:1 clay soils. In all soils, additional OC input increased both unstable and stable macroaggregate formation. The increase in macroaggregation with OC input was highest for the mixed clay soil and lowest for the 1:1 clay soil. In general, drying and wetting cycles had a positive effect on the formation of macroaggregates. Root growth caused a decrease in unstable macroaggregates in all soils. Larger amounts of macroaggregates were found in the mixed clay and oxides soil when plants were grown under 50% compared to 100% field capacity conditions. We concluded that soils dominated by variable charge clay minerals (1:1 clays and oxides) have higher potential to form stable aggregates when OC concentrations are low. With additional OC inputs, the greatest response in stable macroaggregate formation occurred in soils with mixed mineralogy, which is probably a result of different binding mechanisms occurring: i.e., electrostatic bindings between 2:1 clays, 1:1 clays and oxides (i.e. mineral-mineral bindings), in addition to OM functioning as a binding agent between 2:1 and 1:1 clays.

aggregation drying and wetting mineralogy organic carbon root growth 


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Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 2002

Authors and Affiliations

  • Karolien Denef
    • 1
    • 2
  • Johan Six
    • 1
    • 3
  • Roel Merckx
    • 2
  • Keith Paustian
    • 1
  1. 1.Natural Resource Ecology LaboratoryColorado State UniversityFort CollinsUSA
  2. 2.Laboratory of Soil Fertility and Soil BiologyHeverleeBelgium
  3. 3.Department of Agronomy and Range ScienceUniversity of CaliforniaDavisUSA

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