Encyclopedia of Earth Sciences Series: Encyclopedia of Geochemistry
Published: October 16, 2017
C-DEBI Contribution Number: 397


Organic matter degradation and preservation play a key role in global biogeochemical cycles and climate. The degradation of OM generally proceeds via multiple enzymatic reactions involving millions of different organisms, billions of organic compounds, and a number of different oxidants, as well as intermediate compounds. As a result, OM degradation and preservation is controlled by a dynamic and complex interplay of different environmental factors. Attempts to isolate the impact of a single variable on the rate of OM degradation have often led to contradictory results. It is therefore becoming increasingly clear that OM degradability is not an intrinsic property of the organic matter itself but an ecosystem property. Correspondingly, the likelihood that a given organic compound will be degraded by a microbial community or be preserved will depend on the chemical formula and structure of that compound, in addition to the metabolic capabilities of the resident microorganisms in response to environmental factors such as electron acceptor and intermediate metabolite concentrations, temperature, and physical associations with minerals or other organic compounds.