Persistence of soil organic matter as an ecosystem property

Nature. 2011 Oct 5;478(7367):49-56. doi: 10.1038/nature10386.


Globally, soil organic matter (SOM) contains more than three times as much carbon as either the atmosphere or terrestrial vegetation. Yet it remains largely unknown why some SOM persists for millennia whereas other SOM decomposes readily--and this limits our ability to predict how soils will respond to climate change. Recent analytical and experimental advances have demonstrated that molecular structure alone does not control SOM stability: in fact, environmental and biological controls predominate. Here we propose ways to include this understanding in a new generation of experiments and soil carbon models, thereby improving predictions of the SOM response to global warming.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Bioengineering
  • Carbon / metabolism*
  • Carbon Cycle*
  • Charcoal / metabolism
  • Climate Change
  • Ecosystem*
  • Freezing
  • Organic Chemicals / analysis*
  • Organic Chemicals / metabolism
  • Plant Roots / metabolism
  • Plants / metabolism
  • Soil / chemistry*
  • Soil Microbiology


  • Organic Chemicals
  • Soil
  • biochar
  • Charcoal
  • Carbon