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Soil pore network structure, aggregate dynamics and microbial functioning
Convener: Steven Sleutel  | Co-Conveners: Barry Rawlins , Claire Chenu , Jorge Mataix-Solera 
 / Mon, 28 Apr, 15:30–17:15
 / Attendance Mon, 28 Apr, 17:30–19:00

While the scientific community has put many efforts in trying to disentangle the soil biochemical puzzle for decades, still very little is known about the control of the soil pore network’s architecture on microbial functioning. The role of the pore space architecture on the functioning of microbial communities cannot be neglected, though, as it determines spatial separation between soil organic matter and decomposers and regulates the distribution of water and air, both crucial to microbial life (which depends on water but is mainly obligatory aerobic). Tools to simultaneously study undisturbed soil pore architecture along with microbial functioning have been lacking, but recent advances in micro-focus X-ray CT, FISH and nano-SIMS, amongst other techniques, offer exciting new possibilities.

We welcome contributions that seek to combine technological developments in spatial pore network analysis with soil biological and biochemical characterization in order to forward our understanding of microbial functioning in soils. The following non-exhaustive list illustrates potential relevant topics:
1. Methodological improvements: assessment of the compatibility of imaging methods with microbial assays; new approaches to objectively manipulate the greyscale images produced by X-ray scanners; matching of 2D microscopy visualization with 3D micro tomography
2. Experimental approaches: Studying the spatial pattern of microorganisms at the micro scale; Holistic experiments with quantification of soil structure as well as parameters of microbial functioning; incubations with manipulation of substrate vs. decomposer localization in the soil matrix.
3. Theoretical aspects/modeling: development of soil organic matter simulation models permitting consideration of the heterogeneity of the physical microenvironments at scales relevant for microbes.

This session aspires to provide a platform for scientific discussion and exchange of ideas between different (sub)disciplines dealing with the inter-linkage between pore network structure and microbial functioning, moving beyond the study of soil aggregates as surrogates for ‘soil structure’.