Are researchers following best storage practices for measuring soil biochemical properties?

Jennifer M. Rhymes, Irene Cordero, Mathilde Chomel, Jocelyn M. Lavallee, Angela L. Straathof, Deborah Ashworth, Holly Langridge, Marina Semchenko, Franciska T. de Vries, David Johnson, Richard D. Bardgett

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


It is widely accepted that the measurement of organic and inorganic forms of carbon (C) and nitrogen (N) in soils should be performed on fresh extracts taken from fresh soil samples. However, this is often not possible, and it is common practice to store samples (soils and/or extracts), despite a lack of guidance on best practice. We utilised a case study on a temperate grassland soil taken from different depths to demonstrate how differences in soil and/or soil extract storage temperature (4 or -20 °C) and duration can influence sample integrity for the quantification of soil-dissolved organic C and N (DOC and DON), extractable inorganic nitrogen (NHC + 4and NO - 3) and microbial biomass C and N (MBC and MBN). The appropriateness of different storage treatments varied between topsoils and subsoils, highlighting the need to consider appropriate storage methods based on soil depth and soil properties. In general, we found that storing soils and extracts by freezing at -20 °C was least effective at maintaining measured values of fresh material, whilst refrigerating (4 °C) soils for less than a week for DOC and DON and up to a year for MBC and MBN and refrigerating soil extracts for less than a week for NHC + 4and NO - 3did not jeopardise sample integrity. We discuss and provide the appropriate tools to ensure researchers consider best storage practice methods when designing and organising ecological research involving assessments of soil properties related to C and N cycling.We encourage researchers to use standardised methods where possible and to report their storage treatment (i.e. temperature, duration) when publishing findings on aspects of soil and ecosystem functioning. In the absence of published storage recommendations for a given soil type, we encourage researchers to conduct a pilot study and publish their findings.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)95-106
Number of pages12
Issue number1
Early online date26 Apr 2021
Publication statusPublished - 26 Apr 2021


Dive into the research topics of 'Are researchers following best storage practices for measuring soil biochemical properties?'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this