Saturday, 15 July 2006

The 'Cycle of Life' in Soil Science.

Lloyd Ackert, Yale University, Whitney Humanities Center, 53 Wall Street, New Haven, CT 06520

The holistic concept of the ‘cycle of life' has played and continues to play an important role in the history of soil science. It is imbedded in a series of developments from J.B. Boussingault's idea of the nitrogen cycle, V.V. Dokuchaev's earliest notion of soil as organism, to S.N. Winogradsky's chemosynthetic microorganisms. Through their work the vision of a circulation of matter and energy in nature--the cycle of life--entered into the foundation of soil science in the mid-late nineteenth century. This idea moved from organic chemistry into scientific agriculture in the 1850s, and would later become integrated in the rise of organic farming, for example in the work of A. Howard. As soil science became a more self-conscious discipline through the efforts of K. Glinka, C.F. Marbut, J.S. Joffe and others, the 'cycle of life' was integrated into the new methods of soil morphology and soil systematics. In the early twentieth century the 'cycle of life' was developed into an ecological approach to the study of soils. Winogradsky (in a second career) formulated his 'direct method' in soil microbiology on the 'cycle of life' and V.I. Vernadsky incorporated it into his concept of the biosphere and biogeochemistry. These broadly ecological worldviews today provide the context and methods for investigations of nutrient and element cycling in soils. In my poster, I will outline the history of the 'cycle of life' in soil science through a series of exemplifying texts and images drawn from scientific publications of the above mentioned figures.

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