Die Bodenkultur - Journal for Land Management, Food and Environment

A.K. Pehamberger and M.H. Gerzabek:

Cambisols – the most abundant soil type of Austria


Cambisols (“Braunerden”) are typical soils of the temperate humid climate. They can be found in Europe, North- and South America, southern parts of Siberia and occasionally in Australia and New Zealand. The most important diagnostic criterion is a weathered B horizon, typically brownish colored by iron oxides and hydroxides. The WRB classification of Cambisols overlaps to a large extent with the Austrian definition of “Braunerden”, but not completely.

Cambisols constitute the most abundant soil type in Austria. Including forest and agricultural sites they cover 2.2 million ha. Dystric Cambisols dominate on metamorphic and magmatic parent material in the Bohemian massif and the central Alps. Eutric Cambisols can be found in the semi-arid and humid loess dominated landscapes. The latter tend to develop to Luvisols. Cambisols and Luvisols occasionally occur in central Burgenland, in Styria and Carinthia.

The diversity of Cambisols is extensive. Both, shallow soils on weathered rock material and deeply developed soils on loess are common. The first group of Cambisols are characterized by restricted root space, low silt and clay contents, poor plant nutrient contents and a short vegetation period resulting in low net primary production potential. Such sites are prone to erosion and less resilient with respect to contaminant inputs.

Cambisols on loess, however, exhibit high cation exchange capacity for plant nutrients, high silt and clay contents and water holding capacity and are highly productive. The high biological activity of soil organisms are basis for an excellent transformation performance with respect to organic materials and compounds. High water holding capacity and neutral pH values result in excellent filter and buffer functions.

In semi humid loess landscapes we observe Cambisols with slightly alkaline pH values in the B (weathering) horizon.

This implies research needs to elucidate if there is a mandatory coupling of the development of a cambic horizon with pH decrease.

Key words: Cambisol, soil development, soil properties.