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Fate of lignins in soils: A review

Thevenot, Mathieu, Dignac, Marie-France, Rumpel, Cornelia
Soil biology & biochemistry 2010 v.42 no.8 pp. 1200-1211
lignin, soil chemistry, carbon, biogeochemical cycles, carbon sequestration, soil organic carbon, soil-plant interactions, simulation models, soil organic matter, environmental fate, temporal variation, biodegradation, mineralization, biomarkers, vegetation, land use, climatic factors, soil physical properties, kinetics
Lignins are amongst the most studied macromolecules in natural environments. During the last decades, lignins were considered as important components for the carbon cycle in soils, and particularly for the carbon storage. Thus, they are an important variable in many soil–plant models such as CENTURY and RothC, and appeared determinant for the estimation of the soil organic matter (SOM) pool-size and its stabilization. Recent studies challenged this point of view. The aim of this paper was to synthesise the current knowledge and recent progress about quantity, composition and turnover of lignins in soils and to identify variables determining lignin residence time. In soils, lignins evolve under the influence of various variables and processes such as their degradation or mineralization, as well as their incorporation into SOM. Lignin-derived products obtained after CuO oxidation can be used as environmental biomarkers, and also vary with the degree of degradation of the molecule. The lignin degradation is related to the nature of vegetation and land-use, but also to the climate and soil characteristics. Lignin content of SOM decreases with decreasing size of the granulometric fractions, whereas its level of degradation increases concomitantly. Many studies and our results suggest the accumulation and potential stabilization of a part of lignins in soils, by interaction with the clay minerals, although the mechanisms remain unclear. Lignin turnover in soils could be faster than that of the total SOM. Different kinetic pools of lignins were suggested, which sizes seem to be variable for different soil types. The mechanisms behind different degradation kinetics as well as their potential stabilization behaviour still need to be elucidated.