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Reviewed by I. C.

Baillie 57

Soil Use and Management (2001) 17, 57±60 DOI: 10.1079/SUM200057

Soil Survey Staff 1999, Soil Taxonomy
A basic system of soil classi®cation for making and
interpreting soil surveys; 2nd edition.
Agricultural Handbook 436; Natural Resources
Conservation Service, USDA, Washington DC,
USA, pp. 869
Reviewed by I. C. Baillie

the formal de®nitions. They make it easier to understand

INTRODUCTION what soil groupings are intended, and the differences
between similar taxa, especially where the names are not
A lthough Soil Taxonomy is used for soil classi®cation in
only a few European and other OECD countries, it is
the of®cial system in many countries of Latin America and
helpful. The descriptions make ST seem much more about
real soils in real landscapes, and less of a gigantic puzzle.
They would be even more useful if they included something
the Arab world, and in parts of Africa and Asia, as well as in on the choice of criteria for subdivision down to the next
the USA. Even where it is not the national system, its taxa taxonomic level. The text is generally clear, especially when
and names are much used as shorthand between pedologists, dealing with soils that are widespread in USA and familiar
and have strongly in¯uenced the other world system of to the authors and editors. There are some helpful
classi®cation, the World Reference Base for Soil Resources photographs, and I found very few errors in the 200+ pages
(FAO 1998). The appearance of the Second Edition, 24 covering general topics.
years after the ®rst (Soil Survey Staff 1975), and 39 years This review is based mainly on the general chapters
after its direct antecedent, the Seventh Approximation (Soil (numbers 1±8 and 21±23). Chapters 9±20 are the taxonomic
Survey Staff 1960), is an important event, with many keys and descriptions for the 12 soil orders, which have been
practical implications. honed over many interim editions of the Keys to Soil
The second edition is a physically imposing volume, Taxonomy.
nearly 900 pages of double column format and weighing in
at almost 3 kg. It is also massive in scope and detail, and
represents about half a century of cumulative development GLOBAL SCOPE
by USDA soil surveyors, classi®ers and correlators. There
have also been substantial non-US inputs, through the work A welcome feature of the new edition is its pluralistic
of specialist international committees. It is a true second approach to relations between Soil Taxonomy and other soil
edition, in that it has the same subtitle and serial number as classi®cations. It accepts that other systems are appropriate
the ®rst, and covers similar ground in more or less the same in some contexts, and that any classi®cation has to be
order. However it has been considerably expanded and tailored to its practical purpose. This realism is a welcome
improved. Some ambiguities have been clari®ed, and much relief after some ST proponents, who insist that it is the only
new material has been added. The most welcome additions acceptable way of classifying soils in the tropics and advocate
are the fuller descriptions of the soil classes to supplement that its use should be a condition for the involvement of
any funds from the USA (Eswaran et al. 1992). ST is,
Bhutan Soil Survey, c/o Danida, P.O. Box 614, Thimphu, Bhutan.
nonetheless, ambitious and aims to be comprehensive and
Present Address: 13 Albany Road, Bedford, MK40 3PH, England, UK. encompass all the soils of the world. It therefore needs to be
Email lsalema32@freenetname.co.uk scrutinised critically and in detail.
58 Book Review

polythetically ®rst, and then being grouped at successively

higher levels to assist comprehension and organisation. For
the user, however, its operation is a top-down divisive
The structure of ST has not basically changed since the process, with the potential inherent in all such systems that
Seventh Approximation. It is still a divisive, more or less an incorrect identi®cation at higher levels leads to gross
monothetic, hierarchical system of unambiguous and error lower down.
mutually exclusive taxa. It still aims to be comprehensive ST aims to be fundamentally pedogenetic. By grouping
but allows for ¯exibility, and is pedogenetic in intent but together soils that formed in similar ways, it hopes to
pedophenetic in operation. The retention of the original partition some of the variances in non-diagnostic `accessory'
structure and mode of operation means that ST does not features, as well in the diagnostic properties. The opera-
attempt to accommodate other approaches to soil classi®ca- tional differentiae are not pedogenetic processes themselves,
tion that have been suggested over the years, such as but pedophenetic features that are chosen for their
numerical classi®cation, multivariate statistics, fuzzy logic, presumed genetic signi®cance. Because of the more or less
or ethnopedology. monothetic structure, few features can be used as differ-
ST's structure and aims have many practical implications. entiae at each stage and overall. The selection and
The comprehensiveness means that all materials and bodies precedence of the differentiae are critical and presumably
de®ned as soils have to be accommodated. At each level of re¯ect the underlying paradigm of soil formation. Despite its
the keying out there is a residual taxon of `Other soils'. The pedogenetic aims, ST's soil genesis paradigm is not
Typic Udorthents come at the end of four such elimination explicitly spelled out. However the general impression is
processes and form the residual subgroup. They are, that that soil formation is perceived to be the vertical
therefore, as much a taxonomic artefact as a group of development of different kinds of topsoil over subsoil
related soils. Another consequence of the comprehensive- horizons that are differentiated mainly by vertical transloca-
ness is that new taxa cannot be formed by addition, but have tion processes. This model is clearly not always applicable in
to be created out of existing taxa. Thus the 11th order, the old landscapes.
Andisols, was created mainly by detaching the former The diagnostic criteria for the higher taxa are the
Andepts from the Inceptisols. The Gelisols, the 12th and presence/absence of certain horizons of presumed pedoge-
most recent order, is a collection of lower taxa split off from netic signi®cance. In the ®rst edition the genetic origins of
several antecedent orders. some diagnostic horizons were confused with the phenetic
The creation of these new orders since the ®rst edition features that identi®ed them. One of the more contentious
con®rms that ST is achieving its goal of ¯exibility. In fact diagnostic horizons over the years, especially in tropical
the ¯exibility sometimes seems excessive for soil surveyors soils, has been the argillic. In the 1st edition, it was de®ned
in mid-project. Although it has been almost a quarter of a as an illuvial feature. This implied that soil classi®ers should
century between editions, ST has been in a state of ¯ux not have identi®ed argillic horizons (and therefore any
during much of the interval. Revisions of the taxonomic keys Al®sols, Ultisols and argillic taxa elsewhere, such as the
have appeared at a roughly biennial rate since the mid± Argids) if they thought that observed increases in clay
1980's. They introduced many changes, some of them content with depth were due to non-argilluvial processes.
substantial. Thus the suborder structure of the Aridisols was The new edition is careful to concentrate on the phenetic
drastically revised in the mid±1990s, with the former features that de®ne argillic horizons. In the discussions of
Orthids subdivided into six new suborders with the old the horizon and the soil taxa it de®nes, it recognises that
name disappearing. The other original suborder, the Argids, there are several alternative modes of formation, in addition
lost some of its original great groups to the new suborders, to argilluviation. However some of the old genetic/phenetic
and now includes fewer soils than its predecessor. The name confusion lingers on, as in statements like `Argillic horizons
Argid can now have different meanings in publications of are illuvial, ¼' (p. 51), and the description of Al®sols as
different ages, and is a potential source of confusion. having `. markers of processes that translocate silicate
Similarly fundamental changes occurred in the Inceptisols, clays ..' (p. 119).
in which the suborders are now mostly de®ned in terms of When the keying out priorities of diagnostic horizons or
soil moisture regimes, as compared with a variety of criteria other criteria are changed, it presumably indicates a
used previously. modi®cation of the soil formation paradigm. For instance,
Changes at a high level in a hierarchical system require the supplanting of epipedon characteristics by soil moisture
revision of taxa at lower levels. The revisions of the Aridisol regimes as suborder criteria in the Inceptisols was
and Inceptisol suborders resulted in the rede®nition of presumably purposive, and it may have been explained
hundreds of great groups and subgroups. Because the class somewhere. However the new edition does not give reasons,
names in ST recapitulate the whole of the keying out nor does it cite references in support of this and other
process, and incorporate elements from the names of all of changes.
the higher taxa, rede®nition necessitates renaming on an Despite the helpful descriptions of the classes, ST is still a
equal scale. The absence of any changes in the structure and very complex system to operate. For instance the assignment
names between the eighth revision of the keys (Soil Survey of a mineral soil to its correct mineralogical family is a
Staff, 1998) and this new edition is a welcome respite. protracted three-stage process. Firstly it requires that the
Both the original and new editions imply that ST was correct control section be keyed out. This is necessary so
built by agglomeration, with, lower taxa being de®ned that the particle size class can then be keyed out. Only then
Reviewed by I. C. Baillie 59

is it possible to go through the mineralogical keying out younger, rapidly weathering, and more fertile oxidic clays
procedures which differ for four groups, i.e. oxidic, andic, that develop from ma®c and calcareous rocks and related
calcareous + coarse textured, and ®ne textured soils. At the parent materials. However the distinction between these
end of this, the `kaolinitic' designation appears in two places, groups is not recognised in the criteria for the suborders,
with slightly different meanings. which are differentiated on soil moisture regimes. It is
The complexity of the system and the taxonomic only at the third great group level, that the Acric -
recapitulation give rise to an informative but clumsy Eutric distinction is made. A further problem in this
nomenclature (Hendricks 1985). Some of the 2430 odd order is the non-recognition of the differences between
subgroups end up with such formidable names as the relatively fertile Eutr-oxes developed from ma®c
Argiaquoxic Xeric Argialboll or Haplic Haploxerollic parent materials and the morphologically similar but
Durixeroll, which appear to contain redundancies as well generally infertile soils of ultrama®c provenance. These
as being excessively long. are not satisfactorily differentiated even at the ®fth
(family) level.

In addition to general points, most users of ST have queries CONCLUSIONS
about groups of soils of particular concern. My interests
include anthropogenic soils, polygenetic parent materials, Users of a complex system like ST need the greatest
and the Oxisols. possible assistance from presentation in order to under-
stand and operate it. Despite the generally high standards
Anthropogenic soils of writing, editing and production in the new edition,
The new edition is frank about its weakness on anthro- there is scope for improvement. One simple aid would be
pogenic effects on soils, and an International Committee has a consolidated and comprehensive glossary. At present
been set up to remedy the de®ciencies, so it is pointless to the reader looking for the meanings of the formative
cavil about speci®c points. However it is a matter of urgency elements of taxon names, such as `pachy' or `thapto', has
for soil surveyors in, for example, the Eastern Himalayas, to search through four unnumbered tables in the
where about half of the arable land consists of highly Nomenclature chapter. The book's brief and very
arti®cial soils formed by the construction, irrigation and incomplete index exacerbates the problem. For instance,
cultivation of ¯at rice terraces on steep slopes. It is hoped I suspect that, somewhere in this edition, there is a
that the committee will cast its net widely (e.g. Raji et al. de®nition of the `melanic index', a criterion for the
1996), and make allowance for a wide range of non- diagnostic melanic epipedon. However as it is not in the
pedogenic materials (Dudal et al. 1998). The committee sections on the melanic epipedon, andic soil properties,
should also be allowed structural ¯exibility and not be the Andisol chapter, nor in the book's Index, I still don't
constrained to squeeze all anthropogenic soils into the same know what it means! Another aid to understanding the
higher taxa as their putative precursors. Many intensively logic and consistent themes of the system would be some
anthropogenic soils differ considerably from their starting good graphics, such as ¯ow charts, dendrograms, and
points, as illustrated in the reconstruction of the history of charts.
the Belgian soil that appears as Photo 2 in the new edition. Given the massive investment of institutional resources
The considerable pedotaxonomic impact of anthropogenic and personal effort by many soil scientists, it is probable that
changes is also shown in a recent study of the soils of Soil Taxonomy will continue for some time in approxi-
Denmark (Krogh & Greve 1999). mately its present form, and that further revised keys and
editions will appear. Future versions will be of more
Polygenetic parent materials practical bene®t to soil surveyors and pedologists, especially
ST's treatment of heterogeneous parent materials remains outside the USA, if its aims are simpli®ed. I suggest that ST
brief and unhelpful. This appears to stem from the inherited should concentrate on being:
emphasis on vertical translocation within homogeneous (1) The de®nitive authority on soil classi®cation in the USA
materials, at the expense of lateral processes of soil (2) A comprehensive guide to soils found in many mid-
formation. Polygenetic, multi-layered and dynamic parent latitude regions
materials are widespread in many parts of the world and the (3) A model for those who wish to set up similarly
taxonomic problems that they pose have not been suf®- structured soil classi®cations in other parts of the world.
ciently addressed in any version of ST or its keys. The However ST should recognise that:
section on lithological discontinuities is limited to one page (1) It cannot classify all of the soils of the world in detail.
in this edition. (2) Its structure and nomenclature are too complex for it to
be a means of communication about soils and their
Oxisols classi®cation to non-pedologists. This means that soil
The new edition acknowledges that the Oxisol order surveyors and pedologists in many parts of the world
contains two distinctly different groups of soils. The ®rst need to develop parallel classi®cations and terminologies
are the deep, intensively weathered, leached, and infertile to translate ST results for their colleagues and clients.
soils in old shield and basin landscapes in Africa and (3) Its aims are fundamentally pedogenetic. It should leave
South America. The second are also deep, but are the complexities of spatial distribution and the practi-
60 Book Review

calities of soil survey to specialised works, such as the Eswaran H Kimble J Cook T & Beinroth FH 1992. Soil diversity in the
Soil Survey Manual (Soil Survey Staff 1993). tropics: implications for agricultural development. In: Myths and science
of soils of the tropics, eds. R Lal & PA Sanchez. Soil Science Society of
When considering the long term prospects of Soil America Special Publication 29, Madison pp 1±16.
Taxonomy, it is salutary to look at the Linnaean system FAO 1998. World Reference Base for Soil Resources. World Soil Resources
for the classi®cation of higher organisms. Many pedologists Report 84, Food & Agriculture Organization of United Nations, Rome,
admire its simplicity, robustness, and universal acceptance. with International Society of Soil Science & International Soil Reference
However, it is sometimes forgotten that Linne originally and Information Centre.
Hendricks DM 1985. Arizona soils. College of Agriculture, University of
proposed a complex hierarchical system. In the two and a Arizona, Tucson.
half centuries since then, his higher levels of divisions, Krogh L & Greve MH 1999. Evaluation of World Reference Base for Soil
classes and orders have been revised out of recognition, and Resources and FAO Soil Map of the World using nationwide grid soil
it is only his lower level taxa and names, genus and species, data from Denmark. Soil Use and Management 15, 157±166.
that survive. The fact that Linnaean names did not contain Raji BA Esu VK Chude VB & Dedzoe CD 1996. The aggeric horizon: a
proposed amendment to Soil Taxonomy. Journal of Indian Society for
elements of the names of the higher taxa is a factor in their Soil Science 44, 461±465.
persistence, as it has allowed revision at high levels without Soil Survey Staff 1960. Soil classi®cation, a comprehensive system: 7th
wholesale renaming of species and genera. Approximation. Soil Conservation Service, United States Department of
However, Soil Taxonomy will undoubtedly contribute to Agriculture, Washington DC.
the systematisation and understanding of soil diversity for Soil Survey Staff 1975. Soil Taxonomy. A basic system for making and
interpreting soil surveys. Soil Conservation Service, Handbook 436,
the foreseeable future.
United States Department of Agriculture, Washington DC.
Soil Survey Staff 1993. Soil Survey Manual. Second Edition. Soil
REFERENCES Conservation Service, Handbook 18, United States Department of
Agriculture, Washington DC.
Dudal R Nachtergaele FO & Purnell MF 1998. Musings about Soil Survey Staff 1998. Keys to Soil Taxonomy. Eighth Edition. Natural
`Anthropogenic soils'. Atti del Convegno della Societa Italiana della Resources Conservation Service, United States Department of
Scienzia del Suolo, Napoli-Ischia, Universita di Napoli Federico II, Agriculture, Washington DC.
Naples, Italy.