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Construction of an Yucatec Maya soil classification and comparison with the WRB framework


Background: Mayas living in southeast Mexico have used soils for millennia and provide thus a good example for understanding soil-culture relationships and for exploring the ways indigenous people name and classify the soils of their territory. This paper shows an attempt to organize the Maya soil knowledge into a soil classification scheme and compares the latter with the World Reference Base for Soil Resources (WRB).
Methods: Several participative soil surveys were carried out in the period 2000-2009 with the help of bilingual Maya-Spanish-speaking farmers. A multilingual soil database was built with 315 soil profile descriptions. 
Results: On the basis of the diagnostic soil properties and the soil nomenclature used by Maya farmers, a soil classification scheme with a hierarchic, dichotomous and open structure was constructed, organized in groups and qualifiers in a fashion similar to that of the WRB system. Maya soil properties were used at the same categorical levels as similar diagnostic properties are used in the WRB system.
Conclusions: The Maya soil classification (MSC) is a natural system based on key properties, such as relief position, rock types, size and quantity of stones, color of topsoil and subsoil, depth, water dynamics, and plant-supporting processes. The MSC addresses the soil properties of surficial and subsurficial horizons, and uses plant communities as qualifier in some cases. The MSC is more accurate than the WRB for classifying Leptosols.