Pesticide biodegradation is a soil microbial function of critical importance for modern agriculture and its environmental impact. While it was once assumed that this activity was homogeneously distributed at the field scale, mounting evidence indicates that this is rarely the case. Here, we critically examine the literature on spatial variability of pesticide biodegradation in agricultural soil. We discuss the motivations, methods, and main findings of the primary literature. We found significant diversity in the approaches used to describe and quantify spatial heterogeneity, which complicates inter-studies comparisons. However, it is clear that the presence and activity of pesticide degraders is often highly spatially variable with coefficients of variation often exceeding 50% and frequently displays non-random spatial patterns. A few controlling factors have tentatively been identified across pesticide classes: they include some soil characteristics (pH) and some agricultural management practices (pesticide application, tillage), while other potential controlling factors have more conflicting effects depending on the site or the pesticide. Evidence demonstrating the importance of spatial heterogeneity on the fate of pesticides in soil has been difficult to obtain but modeling and experimental systems that do not include soil's full complexity reveal that this heterogeneity must be considered to improve prediction of pesticide biodegradation rates or of leaching risks. Overall, studying the spatial heterogeneity of pesticide biodegradation is a relatively new field at the interface of agronomy, microbial ecology, and geosciences and a wealth of novel data is being collected from these different disciplinary perspectives. We make suggestions on possible avenues to take full advantage of these investigations for a better understanding and prediction of the fate of pesticides in soil.
- Biodegradation rate