© University of Augsburg

Tropical soil organic carbon dynamics along erosional disturbance gradients in relation to variability in soil geochemistry and land use (TropSoc) 

Duration: from 2016 to 2021

Funding institution: German Research Foundation (DFG), Emmy-Noether-Programm

Principal Investigator(s): Prof. Dr. Peter Fiener, Prof. Dr. Sebastian Doetterl

Associate Researchers: Benjamin Bukombe, Mario Reichenbach, Florian Wilken



Research topics: TropSOC

The response of soils to disturbance by erosion is one of the great uncertainties in predicting greenhouse gas fluxes from soils to the atmosphere and hence future earth system dynamics. This is largely due to a lack of data in “remote” areas, such as tropical Africa, but also due to an inadequate transfer of knowledge from smaller to larger scales. In particular, it is unclear how C dynamics differ in the Tropics compared to the temperate climate zones, from which most of our mechanistic process understanding on C cycling is derived. It is important to fill this knowledge gap since tropical ecosystems provide services with global importance, such as C storage in plants and soils, soil fertility, plant productivity and ultimately food supply.



The main objective of the proposed TROPSOC project is to develop a mechanistic understanding of C sequestration and release in the soils of Tropical Africa, studied in the Eastern part of the Congo Basin. This region provides a unique combination of (i) geologically diverse parent material for soil formation and (ii) different levels of disturbance by human activity, taking place under a humid, tropical climate regime, where pristine forests are converted into agricultural land at high rates. TROPSOC will make a significant contribution to answering the following questions:


  • How will nutrient fluxes and C allocation between soils, plants and the atmosphere evolve and differ in tropical systems in relation to the controlling factors: mineralogy, topography and vegetation?
  • How does geochemistry control, interact with or mediate the severity of erosional disturbance on C cycling in the critical zone of tropical soils?
  • How can we model the mechanisms controlling tropical soil C dynamics in a spatially explicit way?


  • Bukombe, B., Fiener, P., Hoyt A. M., Kidinda L. K., Doetterl S. 2021. Heterotrophic soil respiration and carbon cycling in geochemically distinct African tropical forest soils. SOIL, 7, 639–659. doi: doi.org/10.5194/soil-7-639-2021
  • Doetterl, S., Asifiwe, R. K., Baert, G., Bamba, F., Bauters, M., Boeckx, P., Bukombe, B., Cadisch, G., Cooper, M., Cizungu, L. N., Hoyt, A., Kabaseke, C., Kalbitz, K., Kidinda, L., Maier, A., Mainka, M., Mayrock, J., Muhindo, D., Mujinya, B. B., Mukotanyi, S. M., Nabahungu, L., Reichenbach, M., Rewald, B., Six, J., Stegmann, A., Summerauer, L., Unseld, R., Vanlauwe, B., Van Oost, K., Verheyen, K., Vogel, C., Wilken, F., Fiener, P. Organic matter cycling along geochemical, geomorphic, and disturbance gradients in forest and cropland of the African Tropics – project TropSOC database version 1.0, Earth Syst. Sci. Data, 13(8), 4133-4153, DOI:10.5194/essd-13-4133-2021.
  • Reichenbach, M., Fiener, P., Garland, G., Griepentrog, M., Six, J., Doetterl, S. 2021. The role of geochemistry in organic carbon stabilization in tropical rainforest soils. SOIL, 7, 453-475. DOI:10.5194/soil-7-453-2021.
  • Summerauer, L., Baumann, P., Ramirez-Lopez, L., Barthel, M., Bauters, M., Bukombe, B., Reichenbach, M., Boeckx, P., Kearsley, E., Van Oost, K., Vanlauwe, B., Chiragaga, D., Heri-Kazi, A.B., Moonen, P., Sila, A., Shepherd, K., Bazirake Mujinya, B., Van Ranst, E., Baert, G., Doetterl, S., Six, J.  2021.  The central African soil spectral library: a new soil infrared repository and a geographical prediction analysis. SOIL 7(2), 693-715. DOI:10.5194/soil-7-693-2021
  • Tamale, J., Hüppi, R., Griepentrog, M., Turyagyenda, L.F., Barthel, M., Doetterl, S., Fiener, P., van Straaten, O. 2021. Nutrient limitations regulate soil greenhouse gas fluxes from tropical forests: evidence from an ecosystem-scale nutrient manipulation experiment in Uganda. SOIL, 7, 433-451. DOI:10.5194/soil-7-433-2021.
  • Wilken, F., Fiener, P., Ketterer, M., Meusburger, K., Muhindo, D.I., van Oost, K., Doetterl, S. 2021. Assessing soil erosion of forest and cropland sites in wet tropical Africa using 239+240Pu fallout radionuclides. SOIL, 7, 399-414. DOI:10.5194/soil-7-399-2021.

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Water and Soil Resource Research