Soil organic carbon is not just for soil scientists: measurement recommendations for diverse practitioners

S. A. Billings, K. Lajtha, A. Malhotra, A. A. Berhe, M. A. de Graaff, S. Earl, J. Fraterrigo, K. Georgiou, S. Grandy, S. E. Hobbie, J. A.M. Moore, K. Nadelhoffer, D. Pierson, C. Rasmussen, W. L. Silver, B. N. Sulman, S. Weintraub, W. Wieder

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

23 Scopus citations


Soil organic carbon (SOC) regulates terrestrial ecosystem functioning, provides diverse energy sources for soil microorganisms, governs soil structure, and regulates the availability of organically bound nutrients. Investigators in increasingly diverse disciplines recognize how quantifying SOC attributes can provide insight about ecological states and processes. Today, multiple research networks collect and provide SOC data, and robust, new technologies are available for managing, sharing, and analyzing large data sets. We advocate that the scientific community capitalize on these developments to augment SOC data sets via standardized protocols. We describe why such efforts are important and the breadth of disciplines for which it will be helpful, and outline a tiered approach for standardized sampling of SOC and ancillary variables that ranges from simple to more complex. We target scientists ranging from those with little to no background in soil science to those with more soil-related expertise, and offer examples of the ways in which the resulting data can be organized, shared, and discoverable.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere02290
JournalEcological Applications
Issue number3
StatePublished - Apr 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This paper stems from a synthesis group supported through the Long Term Ecological Research Network Office (LNO; NSF awards 1545288 and 1929393) and the National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis at the University of California Santa Barbara, led by K. Lajtha and W. Wieder. S. A. Billings was supported by NSF grants EAR‐1331846 and EAR‐1841614, as well as NSF grant OIA‐1656006 with matching support from the state of Kansas through the Kansas Board of Regents. EPSCoR‐0079054, K. Lajtha was supported by NSF grants DEB‐0817064 and DEB‐1257032, M.‐A. de Graaff by NSF EAR‐1623814, S. Earl by NSF's Central Arizona‐Phoenix LTER program (DEB‐1832016), JMF by NSF's Coweeta LTER Site (DEB‐1637522), K. Georgiou by a USDA NIFA Postdoctoral Fellowship, S. E. Hobbie by NSF's Cedar Creek LTER program (NSF DEB‐1234162), JAMM was supported by Postdoctoral Development funds from Oak Ridge National Laboratory, C. Rasmussen by NSF grant EAR‐1123454, W. L. Silver by NSF's Luquillo LTER program (NSF DEB‐1831952), EAR‐1331841, and DEB‐1457805, B. N. Sulman by the Department of Energy's Next Generation Ecosystem Experiments project, S. Weintraub by NSF's National Ecological Observatory Network program operated under cooperative agreement by Battelle Memorial Institute, and W. Wieder by the Niwot Ridge LTER program (NSF DEB‐1637686). All co‐authors contributed to initial discussions. S. A. Billings, K. Lajtha, and A. Malhotra transformed initial drafts into a cohesive manuscript and all coauthors provided text and/or assisted in the editing of the final product. Licensing note: This manuscript has been authored in part by UT‐Battelle, LLC, under contract DE‐AC05‐00OR22725 with the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE). The U.S. government and the publisher, by accepting the article for publication, acknowledges that the U.S. government retains a nonexclusive, paid‐up, irrevocable, worldwide license to publish or reproduce the published form of this manuscript, or allow others to do so, for U.S. government purposes. DOE will provide public access to these results of federally sponsored research in accordance with the DOE Public Access Plan (‐public‐access‐plan ). Advancing soil organic matter research: Synthesizing multi‐scale observations, manipulations and models

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 by the Ecological Society of America


  • global C cycle
  • soil–climate feedbacks
  • standardized soil methods

PubMed: MeSH publication types

  • Journal Article
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.


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