Differences in chemical composition of soil organic matter in natural ecosystems from different climatic regions: a pyrolysis-GC/MS study

K. Vancampenhout, K. Wouters, B. de Vos, P. Buurman, R. Swennen, J. Deckers

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71 Citations (Scopus)


Soil organic matter (SOM) is a key factor in ecosystem dynamics. A better understanding of the global relationship between environmental characteristics, ecosystems and SOM chemistry is vital in order to assess its specific influence on carbon cycles. This study compared the composition of extracted SOM in 18 topsoil samples taken under tundra, taiga, steppe, temperate forest and tropical forest using pyrolysis¿GC/MS. Results indicate that SOM from cold climates (tundra, taiga) still resembles the composition of litter, evidenced by high quantities of levosugars and long alkanes relative to N-compounds and a clear odd-over-even dominance of the longer alkanes. Under temperate conditions, increased microbial degradation generally results in a more altered SOM chemistry. SOM formed under temperate coniferous forests shows an accumulation of aromatic and aliphatic moieties, probably induced by substrate limitations. Tropical SOM was characterized by an SOM composition rich in N-compounds and low in lignins, without any accumulation of recalcitrant fractions (i.e. aliphatic and aromatic compounds). Lignin composition moreover varies according to vegetation type. Results were validated against 13 new samples. The humic signature of topsoil organic matter formed under different biomes indicates a dominating effect of (i) SOM input composition related to vegetation, and (ii) SOM breakdown reflecting both climate and input quality. No evidence was found for a chemically stabilized SOM fraction under favorable decomposition conditions (temperate or warm climate with broadleaved vegetation)
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)568-579
JournalSoil Biology and Biochemistry
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2009


  • rothamsted classical experiments
  • particle-size fractions
  • state c-13 nmr
  • humic substances
  • forest soil
  • black carbon
  • vertical-distribution
  • decomposition rates
  • mass-spectrometry
  • temperate soils

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