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Large-scale drivers of relationships between soil microbial properties and organic carbon across Europe


Smith, Linnea C et al. (2021), Large-scale drivers of relationships between soil microbial properties and organic carbon across Europe, Dryad, Dataset,


The aim of this study was to quantify direct and indirect relationships between soil microbial community properties (potential basal respiration, microbial biomass) and abiotic factors (soil, climate) in three major land-cover types.

Location: Europe

Time period: 2018

Major taxa studied: Microbial community (fungi and bacteria)

We collected 881 soil samples from across Europe in the framework of the Land Use/Land Cover Area Frame Survey (LUCAS). We measured potential soil basal respiration at 20ºC and microbial biomass (substrate-induced respiration) using an O2-microcompensation apparatus. Climate and soil data were obtained from previous LUCAS surveys and online databases. Structural equation modeling (SEM) was used to quantify relationships between variables, and equations extracted from SEMs were used to create predictive maps. Fatty acid methyl esters were measured in a subset of samples to distinguish fungal from bacterial biomass. Soil microbial properties in croplands were more heavily affected by climate variables than those in forests. Potential soil basal respiration and microbial biomass were correlated in forests but decoupled in grasslands and croplands, where microbial biomass depended on soil carbon. Forests had a higher ratio of fungi to bacteria than grasslands or croplands. Soil microbial communities in grasslands and croplands are likely carbon-limited in comparison with those in forests, and forests have a higher dominance of fungi indicating differences in microbial community composition. Notably, the often already-degraded soils of croplands could be more vulnerable to climate change than more natural soils. The provided maps show potentially vulnerable areas that should be explicitly accounted for in coming management plans to protect soil carbon and slow the increasing vulnerability of European soils to climate change.


Soil samples were collected during the 2018 LUCAS soil sampling campaign. Soil chemical and physical properties were measured at the Joint Research Centre in Ispra, Italy (Orgiazzi et al., 2018). Soil microbial respiration and biomass, as well as water content and water holding capacity, were measured in the Eisenhauer lab of the German Centre for Integrative Biodiversity Research. Fungi/Bacteria was measured by fatty acid analysis by Felipe Bastida at CEBAS CSIC. Climate and geographical data were harvested from various databases, which are listed in Appendix 1 (data sources) of the associated paper.

For more details on the soil sampling and physical and chemical properties, see:

Orgiazzi, A., Ballabio, C., Panagos, P., Jones, A., & Fernández-Ugalde, O. (2018). LUCAS Soil, the largest expandable soil dataset for Europe: a review. European Journal of Soil Science, 69(1), 140-153.

For more details on the measurements of soil microbial respiration and biomass, fatty acids, and water holding capacity, see the supplementary methods of the associated paper (Appendix 2).

Usage Notes

Fatty acid analysis was performed for a subset of 267 samples. Water holding capacity and associated measurements of basal respiration was analyzed in a subset of 100 samples. The samples that were not in these subsets have NA values for the columns associated with these measurements.

In order to protect the precise locations of the LUCAS sampling sites, latitude and longitude values could not be given. The approximate location of each sampling site is instead described by the NUTS3 region. If you wish to replicate the structural equation modeling described in the paper, for which latitude is required, please get in touch.

A description of each column is available in the associated metadata file.


Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft, Award: FZT 118-202548816

European Research Council, Award: 694368

European Commission

Directorate-General for the Environment

Direction Générale Opérationnelle Agriculture, Ressources Naturelles et Environnement du Service Public de Wallonie