The capacity of soil to withstand perturbations, whether driven by climate, land use change, or spread of invasive species, depends on its chemical composition and physical state. The dynamic interplay between stable, well buffered soil process domains and thresholds in soil state and function is a strong determinant of soil response to forcing from global change. In terrestrial ecosystems, edaphic responses are often mediated by availability of water and its flux into and through soils. Water influences soil processes in several ways: it supports biological production, hence proton-donor, electron-donor and complexing-ligand production; it determines the advective removal of dissolution products, and it can promote anoxia that leads microorganisms to utilize alternative electron acceptors. As a consequence climate patterns strongly influence global distribution of soil, although within region variability is governed by other factors such as landscape age, parent material and human land use. By contrast, soil properties can vary greatly among climate regions, variation which is guided by the functioning of a suite of chemical processes that tend to maintain chemical status quo. This soil “buffering” involves acid-base reactions as minerals weather and oxidation-reduction reactions that are driven by microbial respiration. At the planetary scale, soil pH provides a reasonable indicator of process domains and varies from about 3.5 to10, globally, although most soils lie between about 4.5 and 8.5. Those that are above 7.5 are strongly buffered by the carbonate system, those that are characterized by neutral pH (7.5-6) are buffered by release of non-hydrolyzing cations from primary minerals and colloid surfaces, and those that are <6 are buffered by hydrolytic aluminum on colloidal surfaces. Alkali and alkaline (with the exception of limestone parent material) soils are usually associated with arid and semiarid conditions, neutral pH soils with young soils in both dry and wet environments and acid soils with wet environments. Furthermore acid soils often have lost much of their easily weatherable primary minerals and their soluble (plant nutrient) ions, and thus much of their ability to buffer against acidity introduced by biological respiration and its products. Acid soils are closer to thermodynamic equilibrium with their near-surface environment and are less vulnerable to change compared with soils that contain a substantial supply of weatherable minerals (young soils) or carbonate minerals (dry soils). The impact of changing seasonal and annual rainfall and evapotranspiration patterns associated with climate change depends on how current pedogenic thresholds manifest across the landscape. We expect that humid soils subjected to drying should undergo less change than arid or semi-arid soils subjected to wetter seasonal conditions. Land-use changes can drive differential responses depending on changing chemistry and porosity. Collectively these factors provide the framework from which to predict and map soil sensivity to global change and climate change in particular.
Chadwick O., Kramer M.G., Chorover J. (2013): Soil Response to Global Change: Soil Process Domains and Pedogenic Thresholds (Invited). Abstract EP11A-01 presented at 2013 Fall Meeting, AGU, San Francisco, CA, 9-13 Dec..