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Soil Science Society of America Journal Abstract - REVIEW & ANALYSIS

The Importance of French Tropical Research in the Development of Pedology 1


This article in SSSAJ

  1. Vol. 72 No. 5, p. 1375-1381
    Received: June 4, 2007

    * Corresponding author(s): christian.feller@ird.fr
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  1. Christian Feller *a,
  2. Eric Blancharta and
  3. Adrien Herbillonb
  1. a Institut de Recherche pour le Développement (IRD), UR 179 SeqBio, SUPAFRO, 2 Place Viala, 34060 Montpellier cedex 1, France
    b Université Catholique de Louvain, Unité des Sciences du Sol, Place Croix du Sud, 2/10, B. 1348 Louvain-la-Neuve, Belgium


This paper aims to illustrate how different research performed by French scientists in the tropics contributed to the recognition and development of pedology as a discipline. We illustrate the important role tropical research played in the development of pedology from the end of 19th century to about 1980. Between 1897 and 1900, an important and complete soil survey was accomplished in Madagascar and about 500 soil samples were analyzed in Paris by the famous chemist Alfred Müntz and his colleague E. Rousseaux. This major event marks the beginning of the French colonial pedology. But even before (in 1881) Octave Hayot—a planter from Martinique—published at his own expense a book which went unnoticed in the history of French pedology in spite of its interest. In this book, Hayot compared weathering in tropical and temperate regions and observed that under different climates the weathering and corresponding soils developed from similar substrates were different. The first treatise on French pedology was published by Henri Erhart in 1935; this was based on his own work on soils from Madagascar performed in 1926. This treatise was followed in 1936 by that of Valérien Agafonoff based on his experience on soils from Tunisia. Concerning weathering processes and soil mineralogy, French pedology owes much to Alfred Lacroix and to his numerous works in French colonial territories. At last, just after World War II, one of the most important French pedologist was Georges Aubert who studied tropical soils and founded the Office de la Recherche Scientifique et Technique Outre-Mer (ORSTOM) pedology section. His career and the influence of his works on pedology, soil survey, and classifications at an international level are briefly related in this paper for the period 1940–1980.

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