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Impact Of Soil Organic Matter On Soil Properties—a Review With Emphasis On Australian Soils

B. W. Murphy

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A review has been undertaken into how soil organic matter (SOM) affects a range of soil properties that are important for the productive capacity of soils. The potential effect of varying the amount of SOM in soil on a range of individual soil properties was investigated using a literature search of published information largely from Australia, but also including relevant information from overseas. The soil properties considered included aggregate stability, bulk density, water-holding capacity, soil erodibility, soil colour, soil strength, compaction characteristics, friability, nutrient cycling, cation exchange capacity, soil acidity and buffering capacity, capacity to form ligands and complexes, salinity, and the interaction of SOM with soil biology. Increases in SOM have the capacity to have strong influence only the physical properties of the surface soils, perhaps only the top 10 cm, or the top 20 cm at most. This limits the capacity of SOM to influence soil productivity. Even so, the top 20 cm is a critical zone for the soil. It is where seeds are sown, germinate and emerge. It is where a large proportion of plant materials are added to the soil for decomposition and recycling of nutrients and where rainfall either enters the soil or runs off. Therefore, the potential to improve soil condition in the top 0–20 cm is still critical for plant productivity. The SOM through nutrient cycling such as mineralisation of organic nitrogen to nitrate can have an influence on the soil profile.