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Evolutionary Pathways in Soil-Geomorphic Systems

Phillips, Jonathan D.

doi: 10.1097/SS.0000000000000246

ABSTRACT Understanding evolution of soils and landforms (and other Earth surface systems) has itself evolved from concepts of single-path, single-outcome development to those that recognize multiple possible developmental trajectories and different maturely developed states. Soil geomorphology and pedology should now move beyond showing that multiple trajectories are possible to investigating why some evolutionary pathways (EPs) are common and persistent, whereas others are rare and transient. A typology of EPs is developed and applied to soil formation in the North Carolina coastal plain. Some EPs are impossible because of violation of generally applicable laws or absence of necessary conditions; others are currently impossible, having occurred in the past but requiring conditions that no longer exist. Improbable paths are possible but rare, because necessary circumstances involve rare events or boundary conditions. Inhibited EPs are also possible but rare because of resistance factors or feedbacks that prevent or inhibit them. Transient paths may be common but are not long-lived or well preserved and are thus rarely observed. Recurring but nonrepeating EPs occur in different locations but are irreversible in any given location and cannot recur except in the case of system-resetting disturbance or new inputs. Recurring EPs are not inhibited or self-limited, occur in different locations, and may be repeated because of ongoing or recurrent processes or conditions. Selected path types occur in multiple situations, but with increased probability due to feedbacks or responses that encourage or enhance recurrence and/or persistence. The case study shows examples of all possible EP types.

Earth Surface Systems Program, Department of Geography, University of Kentucky. Lexington, Kentucky, USA.

Address for correspondence: Dr. Jonathan D. Phillips, Earth Surface Systems Program, Department of Geography, University of Kentucky, Lexington, KY 40506. E-mail:

Financial Disclosures/Conflicts of Interest: None reported.

Received January 24, 2019.

Accepted for publication June 10, 2019.

Online date: August 5, 2019

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