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Faculty for Biology, Chemistry and Earth Sciences

Department Soil Ecology - Prof. Dr. Eva Lehndorff

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Lehndorff, E; Rodionov, A; Plümer, L; Rottmann, P; Spiering, B; Dultz, S; Amelung, W: Spatial organization of soil microaggregates, Geoderma, 386, 14915 (2021), doi:10.1016/j.geoderma.2020.114915
The physical arrangement of compounds in soil microaggregates is controlling many ecosystem functions such as soil stability and C sequestration. However, little is known about the spatial arrangement of organic and inorganic compounds in soil microaggregates, due to the lack of in-situ analyses of undisturbed material. We hypothesized that microaggregates are spatially organized due to interactions between organic matter and mineral phases. To test this, we separated the water stable, occluded, large and small microaggregate fractions (250–53 and 53–20 µm, 60 J ml−1 dispersion energy) from Ap horizons of a toposequence of sandy to loamy Luvisols (Germany) with increasing clay contents (19 to 35% clay), and subjected in total 60 individual aggregates to elemental mapping by electron probe micro analysis (EPMA), which recorded C, N, P, Al, Fe, Ca, K, Cl, and Si contents at 1 × 1 µm resolution. Stoichiometric element ratios characteristic for organic and inorganic matter were used to define discrete components of the aggregates and analyze their spatial arrangement. We found a pronounced heterogeneity in content and arrangement of discrete aggregate components, which was not reproducible for different specimens from the same soil microaggregate fraction, and thus largely independent of clay content in soil. However, nearest neighbor analyses revealed close spatial correlations between plant detritus (C:N app. 100:10) and microbial organic matter (C:N app. 10:1) indicating a spatial relationship between source and consumer. There was no systematic relationship between soil minerals and organic matter, suggesting that well-established macroscale correlations between contents of pedogenic oxides and clay minerals with soil organic matter storage do not apply to soil microaggregates.
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