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Soil Science Society of America Journal Abstract -

Steady-State Aerobic Microbial Activity as a Function of Soil Water Content


This article in SSSAJ

  1. Vol. 54 No. 6, p. 1619-1625
    Received: Jan 8, 1990

    * Corresponding author(s):
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  1. J. Skopp ,
  2. M. D. Jawson and
  3. J. W. Doran
  1. Dep. of Agronomy, Univ. of Nebraska, Lincoln, NE 68583-0915
    USDA-ARS, Dep. of Agronomy, Univ. of Nebraska, Lincoln, NE 68583



Soil physical properties often regulate aeration-dependent microbial activities important to nutrient cycling, soil fertility and environmental quality. Microbial activity depends on soil water content and is maximum at a water content where the limiting effects of substrate diffusion and O2 supply are equal. The mechanism whereby this occurs and predictions of the soil water content where aerobic microbial activity is a maximum were the objectives of this study. In particular, this study predicted the shape of the microbial activity vs. water content function from soil physical concepts. Soil physical processes are assumed to influence microbial activity by limiting the steady flux of a required substrate or O2 to sites of microbial activity. Steady-state flux relations are used to define the activity function. The dependence of diffusion coefficient on water content or air-filled porosity is assumed. With these assumptions, it is possible to show that a maximum in the activity function exists. The predicted shape of the activity curve is consistent with experimental observations. The relationship between aeration-dependent microbial activity and soil water content facilitates evaluating the indirect effects of soil management practices, such as tillage, on microbial activity.

Joint contribution of the Nebraska Agric. Exp. Stn. and the USDA-ARS. Journal Series no. 9303.

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