Mechanistic Understanding of Soil Organic Matter Formation and Persistence

Soil is the very thin skin on the world’s terrestrial surface and the organic matter contained therein is the most chemically complex and least understood component of terrestrial ecosystems. This organic matter serves many functions vital to humanity, such as regulating water flow and supplying nutrients to plants. Hence, the formation and preservation of soil organic matter is vital for the sustainability of food, fiber, and energy production. Soil organic matter is formed through the decomposition of plant material by many organisms living in the soil. Its persistence depends on a variety of factors, including climate, plant inputs, disturbance events, and the matrix capacity of soil to stabilize SOM. A large focus of our research is on understanding the basic processes that control soil organic matter formation and persistence under different land uses, management, and future climate. We believe this mechanistic understanding is foundational to enacting soil management solutions that assure the preservation of soil functions and a sustainable future for the global population.

fractioned soil

Future Directions and Goals

We have several ongoing projects to improve foundational understanding of:

  1. Saturation threshold of soil organic matter accrual.
  2. Role of the soil fauna and microbiome in organic matter formation and persistence.
  3. Global scale controls on carbon storage in particulate and mineral associated organic matter.