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CAB Reviews

A reviews journal covering agriculture, global health, nutrition, natural resources and veterinary science

CAB Review

Short-term C mineralization (aka the flush of CO2) as an indicator of soil biological health.


Soil biological activity is a key component of soil health assessments, as it (a) indicates soil nutrient cycling capacity from various organic matter sources to inorganic availability, (b) relates to soil structural conditions, (c) informs about the potential to harbour biodiversity in soil and (d) often parallels changes in soil organic C and N storage in surface soils. The flush of CO2 following rewetting of dried soil represents a burst of microbial activity that can be considered an artefact, but has a strong relationship with longer-term C mineralization and basal soil respiration across a diversity of soils. This review demonstrates also the strong association of the flush of CO2 with soil microbial biomass C and net N mineralization. Weaker associations occur with total and particulate organic C and N. The flush of CO2 has been evaluated for assessing both short- and long-term impacts of crop and forage management. It also has strong temporal and spatial variations that can be related to the availability of organic substrates and landscape-specific environmental conditions. Variations in methodology have recently appeared in the literature and standardization is needed if results are to be compared. The flush of CO2 should be considered a rapid, robust and reliable method to indicate soil biological activity and as such should be a major component of any soil health assessment.

CAB Review details

  • History
  • Published: 29 August 2018
  • ISSN
  • 1749-8848
  • Publisher information
  • CABI Wallingford UK
  • Record Number
  • 20183238927