Pedogenesis (from the Greek pedo-, or pedon, meaning 'soil, earth,' and genesis, meaning 'origin, birth') (also termed soil development, soil evolution, soil formation, and soil genesis) is the process of soil formation as regulated by the effects of place, environment, and history. Biogeochemical processes act to both create and destroy order (anisotropy) within soils. These alterations lead to the development of layers, termed soil horizons, distinguished by differences in color, structure, texture, and chemistry. These features occur in patterns of soil type distribution, forming in response to differences in soil forming factors.

Pedogenesis is studied as a branch of pedology, the study of soil in its natural environment. Other branches of pedology are the study of soil morphology, and soil classification. The study of pedogenesis is important to understanding soil distribution patterns in current (soil geography) and past (paleopedology) geologic periods.


Soil develops through a series of changes. The starting point is weathering of freshly accumulated parent material. Primitive microbes feed on simple compounds (nutrients) released by weathering, and produce acids which contribute to weathering. They also leave behind organic residues. New soils increase in depth by a combination of weathering, and further deposition. Gradually soil is able to support higher forms of plants and animals, starting with pioneer species, and proceeding to more complex plant and animal communities.

Soils deepen with accumulation of organic matter primarily due to the activities of higher plants. Topsoil deepen through soil mixing. Soils develop layers as organic matter accumulates and leaching takes place. This development of layers is the beginning of the soil profile.

A rate of pedogenesis of 1/10 mm per year is in order of magnitude of the global soil production estimates.,

Factors of soil formation

Russian geologist Vasily Dokuchaev (1846-1903), commonly regarded as the father of pedology, determined in 1883 that soil formation occurs over time under the influence of climate, vegetation, topography, and parent material. He demonstrated this in 1898 using the soil forming equation:

soil = f(cl, o, p) tr

(where cl = climate, o = organisms, p = biological processes) tr = relative time (young, mature, old)


In 1941, the American soil scientist Hans Jenny published Factors of Soil Formation. His equation of state differs from the Vasily Dokuchaev equation, treating time (t) as a factor, adding topographic relief (r), and pointedly leaving the ellipsis "open" for more factors (state variables) to be added as our understanding becomes more refined:

soil = f(Cl, o, r, p, t, ...)


Climate regulates soil formation. Soils are more developed in areas with higher rainfall and more warmth. The rate of chemical weathering increases by 2-3 times when the temperature increases by 10 degrees Celsius. Climate also affects which organisms are present, affecting the soil chemically and physically (movement of roots).


The organisms living in and on the soil form distinct soil types. Coniferous forests have acidic leaf litter that form soils classed as inceptisols. Mixed or deciduous forests leave a larger layer of humus, changing the elements that are either leeched or accumulated in the soil, and thereby forming soils classed as alfisols. Prairies have very high humus accumulation, creating a dark, thick A horizon characteristic of mollisols.

For example, three species of land snails in the genus Euchondrus in the Negev desert are noted for eating lichens growing under the surface limestone rocks and slabs (endolithic lichens). They disrupt and eat the limestone. Their grazing results in the weathering of the stones, and the subsequent formation of soil. They have a significant effect on the region: the total population of snails is estimated to process between 0.7 and 1.1 metric ton per hectare per year of limestone in the Negev desert.

Parent material

The rock from which soil is formed is called parent material. The main types are: aeolian sediments, glacial till, glacial outwash, alluvium, lacustrine sediments and residual parent material (coral or bedrock).

Pedologists see soil formation or soil properties as a function of regional climate, biota, topography, parent material, time and other variables.

Soil forming processes

Soils develop from parent material by various weathering processes. Organic matter accumulation, decomposition, and humification are as critically important to soil formation as weathering. The zone of humification and weathering is termed the solum.

Soil acidification resulting from soil respiration supports chemical weathering. Plants contribute to chemical weathering through root exudates.

Soils can be enriched by deposition of sediments on floodplains and alluvial fans, and by wind-borne deposits.

Soil mixing (pedoturbation) is often an important factor in soil formation. Pedoturbation includes churning clays, cryoturbation, and bioturbation. Types of bioturbation include faunal pedoturbation (animal burrowing), floral pedoturbation (root growth, tree-uprootings), and fungal pedoturbation (mycelia growth). Pedoturbation transforms soils through destratification, mixing, and sorting, as well as creating preferential flow paths for soil gas and infiltrating water. The zone of active bioturbation is termed the soil biomantle.

Soil moisture content and water flow through the soil profile support leaching of soluble constituents, and eluviation. Eluviation is the translocation of colloid material, such as organic matter, clay and other mineral compounds. Transported constituents are deposited due to differences in soil moisture and soil chemistry, especially soil pH and redox potential. The interplay of removal and deposition results in contrasting soil horizons.

Key soil forming processes especially important to macro-scale patterns of soil formation are:


A variety of mechanisms contribute to soil formation, including siltation, erosion, overpressure and lake bed succession. A specific example of the evolution of soils in prehistoric lake beds is in the Makgadikgadi Pans of the Kalahari Desert, where change in an ancient river course led to millennia of salinity buildup and formation of calcretes and silcretes.

See also

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