Forms and Functions of Meso and Micro-niches of Carbon within Soil Aggregates


  • Alvin J. M. Smucker
  • Wei Wang
  • Alexandra N. Kravchenko
  • Warren A. Dick


intra-aggregate pores, micro-tomographic images, carbon sequestration


Soil aggregates include sand/silt/clay, water, ion and organic matter contents combined with natural dry/wet (D/W) cycling alters both the formation and function of intra-aggregate pore continuity, connectivity, dead-end storage volumes, and tortuosity. Surface aggregates in the 0-5 cm depths of most soils experience from 34 to 57 D/W cycles that exceed differences in water contents >10%. Both the rates of drying or wetting, (intensity) and the D/W range of soil water contents (severity) alter the transport of water, C and N through micro and mesofaunal habitats among multiple size domains. This report identifies micro-niche locations of accumulating soil C within soil aggregate regions that may affect nematode residence sites and migration pathways. Recent advances in X-ray microtomography enable the examination of intact pore networks within soil aggregates at resolutions as small as 4 microns. Geostatistical and multi-fractal methods provide concise characteristics of pore spatial distributions within the aggregates and are useful for comparing these alterations among soils. Aggregates subjected to multiple D/W cycles developed greater spatial correlations that parallel increases in the 13C sorption within aggregate interiors were compared with locations of soil microbial communities. Past research indicates microbial activities within the soil aggregate matrix are spatially heterogeneous due to complex pore geometries within aggregates. Illumination of the "blackbox" interiors of soil aggregates includes a discussion of natural and anthropogenic alterations of solution flow and carbon sequestration by soil aggregates containing biophysical gradients.