The biological and physical stability and resilience of a selection of Scottish soils to stresses

H. L. Kuan, P. D. Hallett*, B. S. Griffiths, A. S. Gregory, C. W. Watts, A. P. Whitmore

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

76 Citations (Scopus)


The ability of soil to resist and recover from anthropogenic and environmental stresses defines stability and resilience, respectively; an understanding of this ability is critical to sustainable land-use. In this study of 26 soils from across Scotland, we examine the influence of soil properties and antecedent conditions on physical and biological resilience to stress. The sites studied covered a wide range of soil types and land management, including serpentine soil from the Shetland Islands, a catena on the Highland Boundary Fault, and young aeolian sandy soils on the east coast. Biological resilience was measured as CO2 evolution from soil with added plant residues after either a transient (heat) or a persistent (copper) stress. Measures of physical resilience were: (i) compression and expansion indices following rapid uniaxial compression (to 50 kPa) and relaxation; and (ii) void ratio changes due to an overburden stress and subsequent cycles of wetting and drying. Evolution of CO2 from soil with added plant residues after heat or copper stress ranged from 23% to > 100% that of the unperturbed soil, while the air-filled void ratio after the overburden stress ranged from 70% to > 100% that of the unperturbed soil. Soils were grouped into quartiles based on their resistance to and recovery after each of the four prescribed stresses. Soil organic carbon (SOC) content correlated strongly with resilience after biological and physical stresses, particularly resistance to Cu stress (r = 0.72) and recovery from compression (r = 0.67), whereas there were no strong correlations between resilience following heat and any of the measured soil characteristics, although both land use and soil class were helpful in separating the responses. Resistance to compression was negatively correlated with SOC (r = -0.63).

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)811-821
Number of pages11
JournalEuropean Journal of Soil Science
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2007


  • compaction
  • organic-matter
  • microbial biomass
  • mechanical-properties
  • ecosystem function relationship
  • tillage
  • biodiversity
  • forest soils
  • communities
  • sewage-sludge


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