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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service


item Clapp, Charles
item Hayes, Michael hb

Submitted to: Soil Science
Publication Type: Peer reviewed journal
Publication Acceptance Date: 5/8/2006
Publication Date: 6/1/2006
Citation: Clapp, C.E., Hayes, M. 2006. Milestones in soil organic matter studies. Soil Science. 1715:5112-5141.

Interpretive Summary: The paper “Milestones in Soil Organic Matter Studies” is a review of 2 classic articles to be published in a Special Issue of the Journal Soil Science to celebrate its 90th anniversary. The main idea was to republish several “seminal papers” from earlier issues of the journal to critic their contributions and show what research results have followed from their publication. The 10 papers covered the traditional soil topics of chemistry, physics, microbiology, pedology and soil organic matter. Our selected topic of soil organic matter included papers by Hans Jenny (1949) and David Jenkinson (1977). In our opinion, these two classical articles have contributed enormously to our abilities to predict the long-term stabilities of organic matter to the soil environment.

Technical Abstract: Two classical articles were selected to represent the topic “Milestones in Soil Organic Matter Studies” for the special issue to celebrate the 90th anniversary of Soil Science. The first article, “Comparative Study of Decomposition Rates of Organic Matter in Temperate and Tropical Regions” was authored by H. Jenny, S.P. Gessel, and F.T. Bingham, and published in Soil Sci. 68:419-423, 1949. This paper, which compared nitrogen and organic matter production and decomposition in temperate and tropical soils, has already been cited in over 350 journal articles. The citing authors have used the Jenny et al. data to explain their own results in several ways including soil organic carbon increases, litter decomposition rates, dynamic modeling of soil organic matter formation, and ecological and forest ecosystem modeling. The second article “Turnover of Soil Organic Matter in Some Rothamsted Classical Experiments” was authored by D.S. Jenkinson and J.H. Rayner, Soil Sci. 123:298-305, 1977. This paper has had a huge impact on considerations of soil organic matter turnover, and has already been cited in upwards of 500 journal articles. The data was fundamental in the progression to the ROTHC model and has led to comparisons of other models such as CANDY, CENTURY, DAISY, AND NCSOIL. Without a doubt, the papers by Jenny et al. and by Jenkinson and Rayner on organic amendments to soils, on biomass in soil from plant and microbial sources, and on the turnover of organic matter, have contributed enormously to our abilities to predict the long-term stabilities of organic matter in the soil environment. But there is much work still to be done. At last we have the technologies that will enable us to understand the compositions and aspects of the structures of the plant and microbial tissues transformed to soil organic components that have degrees of resistance to degradation in the soil environment. Then, when we know better how the compositions/structures of these components are influenced by different soil properties we will be in a better position to predict more accurately the behavior of organic matter in different soil types under different management regimes.

Last Modified: 8/24/2016
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