Research Article
1 April 1979

Conversion of Biovolume Measurements of Soil Organisms, Grown Under Various Moisture Tensions, to Biomass and Their Nutrient Content


Direct microscopic measurements of biomass in soil require conversion factors for calculation of the mass of microorganisms from the measured volumes. These factors were determined for two bacteria, five fungi, and a yeast isolated from soil. Moisture stress conditions occurring in nature were simulated by growth in two media using shake cultures, on agar plates, and on membranes held at 34, 330, and 1,390 kPa of suction. The observed conversion factors, i.e., the ratio between dry weight and wet volume, generally increased with increasing moisture stress. The ratios for fungi ranged from 0.11 to 0.41 g/cm3 with an average of 0.33 g/cm3. Correction of earlier data assuming 80% water and a wet-weight specific gravity of 1.1 would require a conversion factor of 1.44. The dry-weight specific gravity of bacteria and yeasts ranged from 0.38 to 1.4 g/cm3 with an average of 0.8 g/cm3. These high values can only occur at 10% ash if no more than 50% of the cell is water, and a specific conversion factor to correct past data for bacterial biomass has not yet been suggested. The high conversion factors for bacteria and yeast could not be explained by shrinkage of cells due to heat fixing, but shrinkage during preparation could not be completely discounted. Moisture stress affected the C, N, and P content of the various organisms, with the ash contents increasing with increasing moisture stress. Although further work is necessary to obtain accurate conversion factors between biovolume and biomass, especially for bacteria, this study clearly indicates that existing data on the specific gravity and the water and nutrient content of microorganisms grown in shake cultures cannot be applied when quantifying the soil microbial biomass.

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Published In

cover image Applied and Environmental Microbiology
Applied and Environmental Microbiology
Volume 37Number 4April 1979
Pages: 686 - 692
PubMed: 16345366


Published online: 1 April 1979


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Johannes A. van Veen
Department of Soil Science, University of Saskatchewan, Saskatoon, Canada
Eldor A. Paul
Department of Soil Science, University of Saskatchewan, Saskatoon, Canada

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