The literature on the formation, structure and properties of allophane and imogolite is reviewed, with particular emphasis on the seminal contributions by Colin Farmer. Allophane and imogolite occur not only in volcanic-ash soils but also in other environments. The conditions required for the precipitation of allophane and imogolite are discussed. These include pH, availability of Al and Si, rainfall, leaching regime, and reactions with organic matter. Because of their excellent water storage and physical properties, allophanic soils can accumulate large amounts of biomass. In areas of high rainfall, these soils often occur under rain forest, and the soil organic matter derived from the forest biomass is stabilized by allophane and aluminium ions. Thus the turnover of soil organic matter in allophanic soils is slower than that in non-allophanic soils. The organic matter appears to be derived from the microbial by-products of the plant material rather than from the plant material itself. The growth of young forests may be limited by nitrogen supply but growth of older forests tends to be P limited. Phosphorus is recycled through both inorganic and organic pathways, but it is also strongly sorbed by Al compounds including allophane. When crops are grown in allophanic soils, large amounts of labile P are required and, accordingly, these soils have to be managed to counteract the large P sorption capacity of allophane and other Al compounds, and to ensure an adequate supply of labile P. Because of their physical and chemical properties, allophanic soils are excellent filters of heavy metals and pathogens.

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