Characterization of Soil Organic Matter from African Dark Earth (AfDE) Soils
Tuesday, 16 December 2014
Anthropogenic Dark Earths are soils generated through long-term human inputs of organic and pyrogenic materials. These soils were originally discovered in the Amazon, and have since been found in Australia and in this case in Africa. While tropical soils are typically characterized by low soil organic matter (SOM) concentrations, African Dark Earths (AfDE) are black, highly fertile and carbon-rich soils formed through an extant but ancient soil management system. The objective of this study was to characterize the organic matter accumulated in AfDE and contrast it with non-AfDE soils. Characterization of bulk soil organic matter of several (n=11) AfDE and non-AfDE pairs of surface (0-15 cm) soils using thermal analysis techniques (TG-DSC-EGA) resulted in substantial differences in SOM composition and the presence of pyrogenic C. Such pyrogenic organic matter is generally considered recalcitrant, but the fertility gains in AfDE are generated by labile, more rapidly cycling pools of SOM. As a result, we characterized hot water- and pyrophosphate-extractable pools of SOM using fluorescence (EEM/PARAFAC) and high resolution mass spectrometry (FT-ICR-MS). EEM/PARAFAC data suggests that AfDE samples had a greater fraction of their DOM that was more humic-like than the paired non-AfDE samples. Similarly, FT-ICR-MS analyses of extracts suggest that differences among the sites analyzed were larger than between the paired AfDE and non-AfDE extracts. Overall, in spite of substantial differences in the composition of bulk SOM, the extractable fractions appear to be relatively similar between the AfDE and non-AfDE soils.