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The role of active fractions of soil organic matter in physical and chemical fertility of Ferrosols

M. J. Bell, P. W. Moody, R. D. Connolly and B. J. Bridge

Australian Journal of Soil Research 36(5) 809 - 820
Published: 1998


The relationships between fractions of soil organic carbon (C) oxidised by varying strengths of potassium permanganate (KMnO4) and important soil physical and chemical properties were investigated for Queensland Ferrosols. These soils spanned a wide range of clay contents (31-83%), pH values (4·4-7·9; 1 : 5 water), and total C contents (12· 1-111 g/kg). Carbon fractions were derived by oxidation with 33 mM (C1), 167 mM (C2), and 333 mM (C3) KMnO4, while organic C and total C were determined by Heanes wet oxidation and combustion, respectively. Aggregate stability was determined by wet sieving soil from the surface crust after 30 min of high intensity (100 mm/h), simulated rainfall on disturbed samples in the laboratory. The proportion of aggregates <0·125 mm (P125) was used as the stability indicator because of the high correlation between this size class and the final rainfall infiltration rate (r2 = 0qa86, n = 42). The soil organic C fraction most closely correlated with P125 was C1 (r2 = 0·79, n = 42). This fraction was also highly correlated with final, steady-state infiltration rates in field situations where there were no subsurface constraints to infiltration (r2 = 0·74, n = 30). Multiple linear regression techniques were used to identify the soil properties determining effective cation exchange capacity (ECEC, n = 89). Most variation in ECEC (R2 = 0 ·72) was accounted for by a combination of C1 (P < 0·0001) and pH (P < 0·0001). These results confirm the very important role played by the most labile (easily oxidised) fraction of soil organic matter (C1) in key components of the chemical and physical fertility of Ferrosols. Management practices which maintain adequate C1 concentrations are essential for sustainable cropping on these soils.

Keywords: oxisols, organic carbon, permanganate fractions, aggregate stability, infiltration, cation exchange capacity.

© CSIRO 1998

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