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Soil Biology and Biochemistry
Vol. 80, 2015; Pages: A3-A9

Soil aggregation: Influence on microbial biomass and implications for biological processes

Vadakattu V.S.R. Gupta, James J. Germida

CSIRO Agriculture Flagship, PMB No. 2, Glen Osmond, South Australia 5064, Australia


Our 1988 paper, describing the effects of cultivation on microbial biomass and activity in different aggregate size classes, brought together the ‘aggregate hierarchy theory’ and the ‘microbial biomass concept’. This enabled us to identify the relationships between microbial and microhabitat (aggregate) properties and organic matter distribution and explain some of their responses to disturbance. By combining biochemical and direct microscopy based quantification of microbial abundance with enzyme activities and process measurements, this study provided evidence for the role of microbial biomass (especially fungi) in macroaggregate dynamics and carbon and nutrient flush following cultivation. In the last ten years environmental genomic techniques have provided much new knowledge on bacterial composition in aggregate size fractions yet detailed information about other microbial groups (e.g. fungi, archaea and protozoa) is lacking.

We now know that soil aggregates are dynamic entities – constantly changing with regard to their biological, chemical and physical properties and, in particular, their influences on plant nutrition and health. As a consequence, elucidation of the many mechanisms regulating soil C and nutrient dynamics demands a better understanding of the role of specific members of microbial communities and their metabolic capabilities as well as their location within the soil matrix (e.g. aggregates, pore spaces) and their reciprocal relationship with plant roots. In addition, the impacts of environment and soil type needs to be quantified at the microscale using, wherever possible, non-destructive ‘in situ’ techniques to predict and quantify the impacts of anthropogenic activities on soil microbial diversity and ecosystem level functions.

Keywords: Aggregates; Microbial biomass; Microbial diversity; Enzyme activity; Organic matter; Pore space

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