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Chernozem properties of Black Soils in the Baltic region of Germany as revealed by mass-spectrometric fingerprinting of organic matter

Thiele-Bruhn, S., Leinweber, P., Eckhardt, K.-U., Siem, H.K., Blume, H.-P.
Geoderma 2014 v.213 pp. 144-154
phenols, soil stabilization, volatilization, clay, Kastanozems, humification, Phaeozems, steppe soils, A horizons, data collection, suberin, organic soils, ecosystems, Chernozems, spectroscopy, climate, anthropogenic soil types, soil organic matter, principal component analysis, arable soils, Luvisols, diagnostic horizons, steppes, Gleysols, Regosols, Stagnosols, topsoil, color, pyrolysis, sterols, Germany, Central European region
Black Soils with dark-coloured, mollic horizons occur in the Baltic region of Germany and their classification as Chernozems was previously discussed. Mollic topsoil horizons are diagnostic for steppe soils. We therefore hypothesized that the molecular characterization of soil organic matter (SOM) by pyrolysis-field ionization-mass spectrometry (Py-FIMS) is suitable to identify similarities between the Black Soils and Chernozems as well as soils from other major soil groups with mollic horizons or otherwise high SOM content. Data were collected from a set of 341 topsoil samples and analysed based on 139 Py-FI mass spectra and thermograms. The OC content in Black Soils reached high values matching those of Haplic Chernozems from Germany and typical steppe climate ecosystems. Arable soil use converted Ah horizons to lighter-coloured Ap horizons that nonetheless had a similar or higher OC content than underlying Ah horizons. Arable soil use led to less stable SOM as indicated by a higher percentage of volatilized organic matter (VM) upon pyrolysis. Furthermore, VM was especially high (21–52%) for redoximorphic soils, whereas it ranged between 5.1 and 15% in the Black Soils, Chernozems and other steppe soils such as Phaeozems or Kastanozems. Assignment of marker signals from Py-FI mass spectra to the compound classes revealed that Black Soils, all Chernozems and other steppe soils had more phenols and N-containing compounds but less sterols and suberin than most of the other soil groups investigated. The percentage of volatilized organic matter (VM) – with low values hinting at SOM stabilization in soil – ranged from 5 to 52%. It was especially high for redoximorphic (21%) and organic soils (52%), whereas it ranged between 5.1 and 15% in the Black Soils, Chernozems and other steppe soils. Principal component analysis unravelled the SOM composition patterns of different soils and showed that the Black Soils clustered together with typical Chernozems, while soils of other units differed. This indicates that sources and especially humification pathways of SOM were different in these soils compared to Black Soils and Chernozems. Notably, this was the case for Colluvic soils (=Colluvic Regosols), redoximorphic soils (e.g. Gleysols, Stagnosols), Luvisols and Phaeozems, although colluviation, influence of ground- or stagnant water, and clay migration were found in several Black Soils as well. Our findings do not support a strong, direct influence of colluviation and perched water on the SOM composition in the mollic horizons of Black Soils. The data also show that the Chernozem-specific SOM formation and clay migration, as in Luvisols and Phaeozems, are temporally discrete processes. The results underline that Chernozem formation in Central Europe is a relic process and is not only due to steppe ecosystem conditions. Rather, it depends on parent substrate properties, especially clay and carbonate content, secondary carbonate input and anthropogenic soil use. These factors preserved or even regraded the relic Chernozems since the Atlantic stage.