ResearchMain research areas
Soil ecology group

Research in the Soil Ecology Group

Prof. Dr. Jürgen Böttcher

The Soil Ecology working group understands soil as an ecosystem. The working group therefore deals with a wide range of abiotic and biotic aspects of the storage and conversion of substances in soils and the effects on the neighbouring environmental compartments of the atmosphere and hydrosphere (e.g. groundwater). Relevant soil processes are also considered with regard to the expected effects of climate change on soil water, soil gas and matter equilibrium. In addition to the experimental quantification of the processes through laboratory and field investigations, the modelling of turnover and transport processes plays an important role for us. Our work always includes the significance of the spatial variability of measured variables and their upscaling at field level.

Variability and upscaling of transport and transformation processes in soils

Fluxes of substances and gases in soils are crucial quantities for characterising the soil ecosystem. They connect soils with their environment (atmosphere, groundwater, surface waters) and are indispensable links for balancing matter and gas budgets. The transformation and transport processes underlying these fluxes are often highly variable in space and time. A particular challenge is their spatial variability, which is difficult to predict.

An important part of the research of the Soil Ecology Unit is dedicated to the quantification and spatial prediction of transport processes in soils. Scales from the soil profile to catchment areas are considered.

Ecosystem significance of substance storage and translocation in soils

Soils store large quantities of convertible substances, especially in the soil organic matter. Besides carbon (C), this also includes nitrogen (N), which is important as a plant nutrient. Microorganisms convert the nitrogen in the soil organic matter, forming mineral N forms such as ammonium (NH4+) and nitrate (NO3-). If there is a lack of oxygen in soils (e.g. after prolonged precipitation events), microorganisms can also degrade nitrate reductively. The significance of such conversions for an ecosystem lies not only in the provision or loss of plant nutrients, but also in potential hazards for groundwater and the atmosphere through nitrate leaching and gaseous emission of by-products such as the highly climate-relevant trace gas N2O.

For a long time, the Soil Ecology WG has been researching substance transformations and their kinetics in soils, their quantitative contribution to the release of plant nutrients and the effects on adjacent systems such as groundwater or atmosphere.