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Pedogenic Thresholds and Soil Process Domains in Basalt-Derived Soils


Pedogenic thresholds occur where soil properties change abruptly and/or nonlinearly with a small increment in environmental forcing; soil process domains are the regions between thresholds where soils change much more gradually across a large range of environmental forcing. We evaluated thresholds and domains in basalt-derived soils on two rainfall gradients in Hawaii-one from 260 to 3,540 mm/y precipitation on 150,000-year-old substrate, the other from 600 to 3,760 mm/y on 4,100,000-year-old substrate. We identified thresholds associated with the initiation of biological uplift of nutrients at about 700 mm/y on the younger substrate, the depletion of primary minerals at about 2,100 mm/y on the younger and about 900 mm/y on the older substrate, and the initiation of anoxic conditions and associated Fe mobility at about 2,500 mm/y on the older substrate. These thresholds delineated process domains characterized by pedogenic carbonate accumulation and wind erosion (dry young substrate); by weathering and biological uplift of nutrients (intermediate rainfall young substrate and dry old substrate); by surface Fe enrichment and nutrient depletion (wet young substrate and intermediate rainfall old substrate); and by Fe mobilization and loss (wet old substrate). Soils on the older substrate were more highly weathered, lower in total and available P, and characterized by more crystalline clays than otherwise comparable soils on the younger substrate. Prior to European contact, Hawaiian cultivators developed an intensive rainfed agricultural system in the weathering/biological uplift domain on the younger substrate; we suggest that only this domain could support indigenous agricultural intensification in upland soils. © 2013 The Author(s).

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