The impact of chemical pollution on the resilience of soils under multiple stresses: A conceptual framework for future research

Andreas Schaeffer, Wulf Amelung, Henner Hollert, Matthias Kaestner, Ellen Kandeler, Jens Kruse, Anja Miltner, Richard Ottermanns, Holger Pagel, Stephan Peth, Christian Poll, Gerhard Rambold, Michael Schloter, Stefanie Schulz, Thilo Streck, Martina Roß-Nickoll

Research output: Contribution to journalComment/debate

39 Scopus citations


Soils are faced with man-made chemical stress factors, such as the input of organic or metal-containing pesticides, in combination with non-chemical stressors like soil compaction and natural disturbance like drought. Although multiple stress factors are typically co-occurring in soil ecosystems, research in soil sciences on this aspect is limited and focuses mostly on single structural or functional endpoints. A mechanistic understanding of the reaction of soils to multiple stressors is currently lacking. Based on a review of resilience theory, we introduce a new concept for research on the ability of polluted soil (xenobiotics or other chemical pollutants as one stressor) to resist further natural or anthropogenic stress and to retain its functions and structure. There is strong indication that pollution as a primary stressor will change the system reaction of soil, i.e., its resilience, stability and resistance. It can be expected that pollution affects the physiological adaption of organisms and the functional redundancy of the soil to further stress. We hypothesize that the recovery of organisms and chemical-physical properties after impact of a follow-up stressor is faster in polluted soil than in non-polluted soil, i.e., polluted soil has a higher dynamical stability (dynamical stability = 1 / recovery time), whereas resilience of the contaminated soil is lower compared to that of not or less contaminated soil. Thus, a polluted soil might be more prone to change into another system regime after occurrence of further stress. We highlight this issue by compiling the literature exemplarily for the effects of Cu contamination and compaction on soil functions and structure. We propose to intensify research on effects of combined stresses involving a multidisciplinary team of experts and provide suggestions for corresponding experiments. Our concept offers thus a framework for system level analysis of soils paving the way to enhance ecological theory.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1076-1085
Number of pages10
JournalScience of the Total Environment
StatePublished - 15 Oct 2016
Externally publishedYes


  • Compaction
  • Copper
  • Natural stress
  • Pollutants
  • Resilience
  • Resistance
  • Stability


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