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Aggregate-associated soil organic matter as an ecosystem property and a measurement tool

Six, Johan, Paustian, Keith
Soil biology & biochemistry 2014 v.68 pp. A4
carbon dioxide, carbon sequestration, climate, disturbed soils, ecosystems, microaggregates, models, nitrous oxide, no-tillage, particulate organic matter, physicochemical properties, soil biota, soil organic carbon, soil pore system, spectral analysis
Our 2000 paper Soil macroaggregate turnover and microaggregate formation: A mechanism for C sequestration under no-tillage agriculture had its genesis in attempts to identify and isolate soil organic matter (SOM) fractions that reflect the impacts of climate, soil physiochemical properties and physical disturbance on the soil organic carbon balance. A key prerequisite for the investigation was the development of a simple device to isolate the microaggregates (53–250 μm) contained within stable (i.e., resistant to slaking) macroaggregates (>250 μm) obtained by conventional wet-sieving. By comparing the abundance and C content of micro-within-macroaggregates, the size distribution of intra-aggregate particulate organic matter (iPOM) and isotopically-based estimates of the age of the organic matter in the different fractions, we were able to corroborate our hypothesis that the absence of tillage (i.e., in no-till and native soils) promotes greater longevity of newly-formed macroaggregates, resulting in greater SOM stabilization in microaggregates formed within stable macroaggregates. Follow-up research has indicated that the microaggregate-within-macroaggregate fraction is 1) potentially a robust indicator for management-induced SOC changes over decadal time scales, 2) of biological origin and therefore useful in interpreting impacts of soil biota on soil C and N dynamics, but not in-situ CO2 and N2O fluxes, 3) useful in complimentary chemical and spectroscopic approaches to relate SOM dynamics to soil structure and attributes of the soil pore space, and 4) a good candidate for being incorporated into models as a measurable fraction.