Justine Lejoly

Dr. ir. Justine Lejoly

Postdoc | Researcher
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Visiting Address

Droevendaalsesteeg 10
6708 PB Wageningen

+31 (0) 317 47 34 00

The Netherlands



Soils are complex environments where climate, vegetation, and soil organisms regulate nutrient cycling and soil organic matter decomposition. I aim to untangle the biotic and abiotic drivers of soil carbon persistence to enhance ecosystem resilience.


I obtained my master in environmental biogengineering at the University of Liège in Belgium (2017), for which I studied the impacts of termite activity on soil physico chemical properties in an Indian agroecological farm. My interest in soil macrofauna was further reinforced during my PhD in soil science at the University of Alberta in Canada (2022) , where I researched the impacts of invasive earthworms on soils of the boreal forest, with a special focus on carbon dynamics

Soil microbial communities regulate organic matter decomposition and consequent carbon sequestration. Through microbivory and detritivory, soil fauna can greatly modulate microbial dynamics, but the consequences for soil carbon cycling are mostly overlooked. I aim to untangle the drivers of soil carbon dynamics through manipulations of soil faunal communities. This will shed light on the importance of the whole soil food web for soil organic matter dynamics so that we can ensure ecosystem resilience. 

I recently obtained a Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions Postdoctoral fellowship to study the role of soil micro- and mesofauna in soil organic matter dynamics and carbon cycling, with a focus on microbial necromass (Soil Fauna MIND). This project will develop a mechanistic understanding of the role of different trophic relationships in soil carbon dynamics.

Research groups


Key publications

  • Geoderma

    Invasive earthworms affect soil morphological features and carbon stocks in boreal forests

    Lejoly, J., Quideau, S., & Laganière, J.
    Non-native earthworms have been invading North America since European settlement. Compared to temperate forests, their presence in the boreal forest is much more recent and thus remains understudied, despite the potential threat they represent for soil carbon (C) stocks. Here we compared earthworm-invaded and earthworm- free zones in soil types representative of the boreal forest, including Luvisols, Podzols, and Brunisols (Cambisols). We observed that the forest floor (surface organic layer, or LFH) decreased in thickness after invasion in most cases and developed into a Vermimull, with the loss of the most humified layer (humic or H horizon). Simul- taneously, the surface mineral horizon was reworked by earthworms into a novel Ahu horizon, characterized by higher organic matter and enriched in earthworm casts. Forest floor C stocks decreased by 94% and 59% for Luvisols and Brunisols respectively, while those of Podzols remained apparently unaffected. Mineral soil C stocks in Brunisols increased after invasion, while no changes were observed in Luvisols and Podzols. Our results demonstrated the substantial impact that invading earthworms are having on soil morphological features and C stocks in boreal forests. Effects were similar to what has been reported for temperate forests, although the degree of impact depended on soil type. While C stocks were less affected in the mineral soil compared to the forest floor, the development of a novel surface horizon reworked by earthworms could alter microbial dynamics and impact mineral C persistence. Further research is needed to quantify long-term implications of earthworm presence for boreal soil C stocks.
  • SOIL

    Earthworm-invaded boreal forest soils harbour distinct microbial communities

    Lejoly, J., Quideau, S., Laganière, J., Karst, J., Martineau, C., Swallow, M., Norris, C. & Samad, A.
    Earthworm invasion in North American forests has the potential to greatly impact soil microbial communities by altering soil physicochemical properties, including structure, pH, nutrient availability, and soil organic matter (SOM) dynamics. While most research on the topic has been carried out in northern temperate forests, little is known about the impact of invasive earthworms on soil microbial communities in hemiboreal and boreal forests, characterized by a slower decay of organic matter (OM). Earthworm activities can increase OM mineralization, altering nutrient cycling and biological activity in a biome where low carbon (C) and nitrogen (N) availability typically limits microbial and plant growth. Here, we characterized and compared microbial communities of earthworm-invaded and non-invaded soils in previously described sites across three major soil types found in the Canadian (hemi)boreal forest using a space-for-time approach. Microbial communities of forest floors and surface mineral soils were characterized using phospholipid fatty acid (PLFA) analysis and metabarcoding of the 16S rRNA gene for bacteria and archaea and of the internal-transcriber-spacer-2 (ITS2) region for fungi. In forest floors, the effects of earthworm invasion were minor. In mineral soil horizons, earthworm invasion was associated with higher fungal biomass and greater relative abundance of ectomycorrhizal fungi. Oligotrophic bacteria (Acidobacteriota and Chloroflexi) were less abundant in invaded mineral soils, where Gram(+) : Gram(−) ratios were also lower, while the opposite was observed for the copiotrophic Bacteroidota. Additionally, earthworm-invaded mineral soils harboured higher fungal and bacterial species diversity and richness. Considering the important role of soil microbial communities for ecosystem functioning, such earthworm-induced shifts in their community composition are likely to impact nutrient cycling, as well as vegetation development and forest productivity at a large scale, as the invasion progresses in these (hemi)boreal systems.
  • Pedobiologia

    Effects of termite sheetings on soil properties under two contrasting soil management practices

    Lejoly, J., Cornelis, J.-T., Van Ranst, E., Jansegers, E., Tarpin, C., Degre, A., Colinet, G., & Malaisse, F.
    Soil organic matter (SOM) dynamics and termite activity have now been widely accepted as key players for improving soil properties in tropical agro-ecosystems. Numerous studies have described environmental impacts of aboveground termite mounds, while few data are available on temporary structures built for food foraging, called termite sheetings. The effects of termite activity on soil properties resulting from organic matter (OM) amendment under two contrasting management practices were studied in similar pedological and climatic conditions in Southern India (Auroville). Our results showed an increase in bio-available nutrients (K, Mg and P), organic carbon (OC) content, cationic exchange capacity (CEC), exchangeable base cations and water pH in the termite sheetings compared to the underlying and reference soils, in the organic tilled field. On the other hand, only bio-available K increased in the permanent raised beds. Aggregation processes were improved in termite sheetings for the organic tilled field, as the amounts of macroaggregates (250 μm– 2 mm) and protected mi- croaggregates increased, whereas the amount of free microaggregates (50–250 μm) decreased. Moreover, termite activity favoured SOM storage in termite sheetings by increasing OC content in each aggregate fraction, while no differences were observed in the permanent raised beds. Our study demonstrates that termite activity can im- prove nutrient availability, carbon storage and pH conditions in agro-ecosystems but that the magnitude of the effect likely depends on the agronomic practices in use.
  • Canadian Journal of Soil Science

    Microbial response to carbon and nutrient additions in boreal forest soils and coversoils used during post mining reclamation

    Lejoly, J., Quideau, S. A., & Rees, F.
    Two types of organic-matter-rich coversoils are used during reclamation in the oil sands region of Alberta: forest floor material (FFM) salvaged from upland forests, and peat material (PM) salvaged from boreal wetlands. In this study, we tested the hypothesis that carbon (C) and nutrient availability may limit microbial activity in these reclamation materials by measuring their response to either 13C-labeled glucose or NPKS addition. Coversoil materials were compared with two natural forest soils corresponding to target sites for reclamation. A shift in microbial community structure (determined using phospholipid fatty acid analysis) was detected after both additions, but it was stronger with glucose than NPKS, especially for the two reclamation materials. For all soils, the increase in microbial respiration was stronger after glucose than after NPKS addition. The majority of CO2 originated from soil organic matter (SOM) for the natural forest soils but from glucose for the reclamation materials. In PM, glucose addition triggered SOM mineralization, as shown by a positive priming effect. Despite the absence of a priming effect for FFM, microbial communities incorporated higher rates of glucose into their biomass and respired double the amount of glucose compared with the other materials. Furthermore, the overall microbial community structure in the FFM became more similar to that of the natural forest soil materials following glucose addition. These findings indicate that C and NPKS limitations were stronger for the two reclamation materials than for the two natural forest soils. Furthermore, microbial communities in the two reclamation materials responded more readily to labile C than to NPKS addition.
  • Canadian Journal of Soil Science

    Gray Luvisols are polygenetic

    Dyck, M. F., Sorenson, P. T., Lejoly, J., & Quideau, S. A.
    With respect to the pedosphere, human activities in the last 100 years have been the major driver of soil change. Despite human activities being one of the main soil forming factors recognized by soil scientists (in addition to climate, organisms, parent material, relief, groundwater, and time), the Canadian System of Soil Classification (CSSC) emphasizes soil as a natural body. We argue human agricultural activities are direct and indirect drivers of significant changes to the carbon balance and cycling in A horizons of Gray Luvisolic soils in western Canada, resulting in changes to A horizon carbon stocks, structure, and micromorphology. Evidence from scientific literature, in-field soil profile observations, and the National Pedon Database are presented in support of our argument. We propose a polygenetic, two-stage model of Gray Luvisol soil formation. The first stage is dominated by the climate forcing of the Holocene, resulting in a relatively stable boreal forest ecosystem including perturbations from natural and human-induced wildfire and other disturbances. The second stage is dominated by direct, human-driven disturbances such as cultivation, release of exotic fauna (earthworms), and indirect human-driven disturbances associated with anthropogenic climate change. Further, we propose modest amendments to the CSSC to reflect a polygenetic model of soil genesis in Gray Luvisolic soils that preserve the balance between observation and interpretation inherent in the system.

Projects & collaborations


  • Soil biodiversity analysis for sustainable production systems (SoilProS)

    Project 2022–Present
    SoilProS will interpret big data on soil biodiversity, soil chemical and physical characteristics with respect to current and desired soil functions, and how to use this information in order to help farmers predicting which crop varieties, seed mixtures, (organic) fertilizers, soil inocula, and organic substrates enhance the environmental sustainability of their activities.
    microscopic soil organisms
  • Soil biodiversity and carbon storage

    Project 2022–Present
    Understanding carbon cycling in soils is of vital importance, because it determines soil-climate feedbacks via balance of carbon between the soil and the atmosphere, as well as soil health. Soil communities play a key role in driving soil carbon cycling. Soil organisms degrade organic matter, which drives emissions to the atmosphere. At the same time they use carbon for their own growth and thereby determine the amount of carbon retained in soils and microbial biomass. Higher trophic levels of soil organisms may modify the activity and performance of soil microorganisms by feeding on them, as well as by changing abiotic conditions in the soil. As a result, they can strongly impact the role of microorganisms in driving carbon cycling and storage. How soil communities and trophic interactions between soil organisms drive carbon losses and gains in soils is still poorly understood. Therefore in my group, we focus on how soil communities drive soil carbon cycling. We pay specific attention to relationships between litter and decomposer communities in driving soil carbon cycling and to the role of higher trophic levels in modifying rates of carbon cycling. This is work is carried out in close collaboration with the Lejoly group.
    Litter decomposition experiment in Arctic tundra