Architecture of soil microaggregates: Advanced methodologies to explore properties and functions

Wulf Amelung, Ni Tang, Nina Siebers, Michaela Aehnelt, Karin Eusterhues, Vincent J.M.N.L. Felde, Georg Guggenberger, Klaus Kaiser, Ingrid Kögel-Knabner, Erwin Klumpp, Claudia Knief, Jens Kruse, Eva Lehndorff, Robert Mikutta, Stephan Peth, Nadja Ray, Alexander Prechtel, Thomas Ritschel, Steffen A. Schweizer, Susanne K. WocheBei Wu, Kai U. Totsche

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


The functions of soils are intimately linked to their three-dimensional pore space and the associated biogeochemical interfaces, mirrored in the complex structure that developed during pedogenesis. Under stress overload, soil disintegrates into smaller compound structures, conventionally named aggregates. Microaggregates (<250 µm) are recognized as the most stable soil structural units. They are built of mineral, organic, and biotic materials, provide habitats for a vast diversity of microorganisms, and are closely involved in the cycling of matter and energy. However, exploring the architecture of soil microaggregates and their linkage to soil functions remains a challenging but demanding scientific endeavor. With the advent of complementary spectromicroscopic and tomographic techniques, we can now assess and visualize the size, composition, and porosity of microaggregates and the spatial arrangement of their interior building units. Their combinations with advanced experimental pedology, multi-isotope labeling experiments, and computational approaches pave the way to investigate microaggregate turnover and stability, explore their role in element cycling, and unravel the intricate linkage between structure and function. However, spectromicroscopic techniques operate at different scales and resolutions, and have specific requirements for sample preparation and microaggregate isolation; hence, special attention must be paid to both the separation of microaggregates in a reproducible manner and the synopsis of the geography of information that originates from the diverse complementary instrumental techniques. The latter calls for further development of strategies for synlocation and synscaling beyond the present state of correlative analysis. Here, we present examples of recent scientific progress and review both options and challenges of the joint application of cutting-edge techniques to achieve a sophisticated picture of the properties and functions of soil microaggregates.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)17-50
Number of pages34
JournalJournal of Plant Nutrition and Soil Science
Issue number1
StatePublished - Feb 2024


  • aggregate dispersion and fractionation
  • in silico soil aggregates
  • microbial biogeography of aggregates
  • soil interfaces
  • spectromicroscopy


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