Ecology Soil Biogeochemistry
Matthew D. Wallenstein, Amanda Carlson, DeAnna J. Laurel, Ezequiel Fernandez Tschieder, Laurel Lynch
  • LAST REVIEWED: 30 March 2017
  • LAST MODIFIED: 30 March 2017
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199830060-0172


As the name implies, soil biogeochemistry is a scientific field examining the complex and inseparable interactions between the biotic (living) and abiotic (non-living) components of soils. Soils are not studied in isolation but are instead viewed as a key nexus in the exchange of matter and energy between the atmosphere, aquatic and marine systems, and the subsurface. The chemical, physical, and biological complexity of soils necessitates our understanding of soil processes relies on the advancement of analytical technology. In the 21st century, insights from genomic studies and high-resolution chemistry analytical tools have overturned long-standing paradigms about soil formation and revealed novel decomposition and stabilization pathways.

General Overviews

While the field of soil biogeochemistry has only been formally organized for a few decades (Gorham 1991), its origins are evident in the writings of luminaries that recognized the importance of interactions between the abiotic and biotic components of soils. For example, the seminal work of Jenny 1941 articulated how the interactions of climate, geology, and biology drive the formation of soil organic matter. These fundamental insights were the foundation for more recent advances in our detailed understanding of soil formation, summarized by Lehmann and Kleber 2015. Other aspects of soil nutrient cycling have been elucidated, and new aspects continue to be discovered to the present (van Groenigen, et al. 2015). Even as we continue advancing our understanding of soil biogeochemical processes, humans continue altering them, making this work as relevant and important as ever (Paul 2014).

  • Gorham, E. 1991. Biogeochemistry: Its origins and development. Biogeochemistry 13.3: 199–239.

    DOI: 10.1007/BF00002942

    A thorough and scholarly review of the history of biogeochemistry.

  • Jenny, Hans. 1941. Factors of soil formation. New York: McGraw-Hill.

    A seminal work that presents the concepts of state factors driving soil formation, specifically: soil physicochemical properties, regional climate, potential biota, topographic relief, parent material, and time.

  • Lehmann, Johannes, and Markus Kleber. 2015. The contentious nature of soil organic matter. Nature 528.7580: 60–68.

    Reviews the history and drivers of recent paradigm shifts in our understanding of soil organic matter decomposition and formation.

  • McLauchlan, Kendra. 2006. The nature and longevity of agricultural impacts on soil carbon and nutrients: A review. Ecosystems 9.8: 1364–1382.

    DOI: 10.1007/s10021-005-0135-1

    A summary of agricultural management impacts on soil nutrient cycling.

  • Paul, Eldor A. 2014. Soil microbiology, ecology and biochemistry. Waltham, MA: Academic.

    An edited book focused on biological controls of soil biogeochemical processes.

  • Sterner, R. W., and J. J. Elser. 2002. Ecological stoichiometry: The biology of elements from molecules to the biosphere. Princeton, NJ: Princeton Univ. Press.

    This seminal text explicitly links elemental cycling with metabolic demand and ecological interactions. Summarizes the chemistry of biologically relevant elements and then explores how they influence the structure of molecules, cells, individuals, populations, communities, and ecosystems.

  • van Groenigen, J. W., D. Huygens, and P. Boeckx, et al. 2015. The soil N cycle: New insights and key challenges. Soil 1.1: 235.

    DOI: 10.5194/soil-1-235-2015

    Synthesizes our understanding of the modern nitrogen cycle and identifies key areas of uncertainty challenging the modeling community.

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