I was reading this paper: https://link.springer.com/article/10.1023/A:1011398431524, which makes claims based on the the idea that frost can increase soil fertility. How/Why will frost increase the fertility of the soil? I was always under the assumption that frost was bad for soil and plants in general.


I found this article on why frost increase soil fertility - specifically nutrient density in the soil. 101 years old!

The Occurrence of Bacteria in Frozen Soil E. C. Harder Botanical Gazette Vol. 61, No. 6 (Jun., 1916), pp. 507-517 https://www.jstor.org/stable/2469064?seq=3#fndtn-page_scan_tab_contents

Relevant text pasted below. In short: it is bacterial action and nitrogen fixation which contributes to soil fertility. Freezing increases bacterial population and these metabolic activites. The theory is that freezing kills bacterial predators on higher trophic levels (protozoans) but the bacteria live and thrive in the absence of predators.

An analogous hypothesis proposed by RUSSEL3 for increases in the number of bacteria after partial sterilization by heat, frost, or other means is that by such partial sterilization the protozoa are killed, thus permitting the unhindered development of bacteria which under normal conditions is held in check by protozoa.
BROWN and SMITH (loc. cit.) in their investigations dealt mainly with the physiological activities of bacteria under conditions of low temperature and frost, although they also made some determinations of the number of bacteria in frozen soil. Their principal conclusions regarding the ammonifying, nitrifying, denitrifying, and nitrogen fixing powers of frozen soils are as follows: (1) that "frozen soils possess a much greater ammonifying power than unfrozen soils"; (2) that "during the fall season, the ammonifying power of the soil increases until the temperature of the soil almost reaches zero, when a decrease occurs, and this is followed by a gradual increase and the ammonifying power of the soil reaches a maximum at the end of the frozen period"; (3) that "the nitrifying power of frozen soils is weak and shows no tendency to increase with extension of the frozen period"; (4) that "frozen soils possess a decided denitrifying power which seems to diminish with the continuance of the frozen period"; (5) that "during the fall season, the denitrifying power of the soil increases until the soil freezes, after which a decrease occurs"; (6) that "frozen soils possess a nitrogen fixing power which increases with the continuance of the frozen period, being independent of moderate changes in the moisture conditions, but restricted by large decreases in moisture"; and (7) that "in the fall, the nitrogen fixing power of the soil increases until the soil becomes frozen, which in almost ceases, after which a smaller nitrogen fixing power is established."

  • $\begingroup$ hmm how interesting, I never would of thought of that $\endgroup$ Aug 1 '17 at 19:35
  • $\begingroup$ It is interesting, and I was glad your question provoked me to read up. $\endgroup$
    – Willk
    Aug 2 '17 at 15:30
  • $\begingroup$ @Willk - Probably better to use newer references. A lot changes in 101 years. (Also, a lot stays the same, so...) $\endgroup$ May 16 at 14:58

From the introduction (bottom of page 167 and top of page 168) of the paper you linked (Masters and McMillan 2001)

We use newly available worldwide climate data to quantify the prevalence of seasonal frosts, hypothesizing that what the tropics have in common is an absence of winter frost, "the great executioner of nature" (Kamarck, 1976, p.17). A hard frost that kills exposed organisms in nature could have a major influence on the productivity of human investment in agriculture and health, by reducing competition from pests, pathogens and parasites.

  • $\begingroup$ But what does that have to do with the soil? $\endgroup$ Aug 1 '17 at 17:06
  • $\begingroup$ Frost kills pathogens in the soil, making the soil more fertile for crops (it is their hypothesis). Is it unclear? $\endgroup$
    – Remi.b
    Aug 1 '17 at 17:52
  • $\begingroup$ then why are there no plants in the north pole? $\endgroup$ Aug 1 '17 at 17:55
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ I am not making any claim myself. It is their hypothesis. You're going to have to read the paper to learn more about whether they found support for their hypothesis. Note that your north pole argument is extremely poor because 1) there is no land in the north pole, only ice (unlike in antartica) 2) there is no seasonal frost int he north pole (they are specifically talking about seasonal frost). $\endgroup$
    – Remi.b
    Aug 1 '17 at 17:59
  • $\begingroup$ oh␣␣␣␣␣␣␣␣␣␣␣␣␣␣␣␣␣␣␣␣␣␣ $\endgroup$ Aug 1 '17 at 18:06

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.