‘A poor man’s rainforest’: why we need to stop treating soil like dirt

A student of soil ecology Dr. Simon Jeffery will be present at the multidisciplinary consortium’s inaugural meeting, which is part of the SOB4ES European research project.

‘A poor man’s rainforest’: why we need to stop treating soil like dirt

A group of experts from across Europe, including a soil ecologist from Harper Adams University, will attend the launch of a research project to evaluate soil biodiversity and ecosystem services. A student of soil ecology Dr. Simon Jeffery will be present at the multidisciplinary consortium’s inaugural meeting, which is part of the SOB4ES European research project.

Representatives from the consortium’s 17 EU partners and two associated partners will meet in the consortium, which is headed by Professor Dr. Maria J. I. Briones of the Universidade de Vigo in Spain. Together, they will create and test relevant indicators for ecosystem services and soil biodiversity for use in evaluating policy in support of the EU Soil Strategy.

By 2050, all of the soils in the EU should be in good health, according to the EU Soil Strategy. When soils are healthy, they continuously provide the widest range of ecosystem services possible.

The management and planning of land must, however, fully take into account soil biodiversity if progress is to be made. When compared to other groups, such as higher plants and vertebrates, soil biodiversity currently receives little attention in extensive monitoring efforts.

As a result, the value of soil biodiversity to ecosystem services is largely unappreciated, cannot be objectively quantified, is invisible to society, and is not taken into account by EU regulations and policy tools.

The status of soil biodiversity and its contribution to various ecosystem services under various land uses, including soils from urban, agricultural, forest, semi-natural, wetland, and dryland environments, must be carefully examined in order to address this.

Using relevant spatial and temporal scales, the research project SOB4ES (Integrating SOil Biodiversity to Ecosystem Services) aims to create an integrated framework that fully accounts for the contribution of soil biodiversity to ecosystem services.

Additionally, the consortium will evaluate the cost-effectiveness of soil biodiversity indicators that accurately depict how land management affects the provision of ecosystem services under a variety of land-use scenarios typical of Europe.

The SOB4ES consortium’s coordinator, Dr. Maria J. I. Briones, is a professor in the Department of Ecology and Animal Biology at the University of Vigo.

She stated: “The challenge is to provide knowledge on soil biodiversity so that policy makers can incorporate efficient soil biodiversity conservation measures into EU legislation, such as regarding soil health. The long-term objective of SOB4ES is to support the EU Soil Strategy and the upcoming Soil Health Law with policy developments that include practical measures and incentives for ensuring the protection, restoration, and sustainable use of soils throughout the EU.”

“SOB4ES research project will contribute to fully integrating soil biodiversity into land management and planning as well as legally binding protection measures by supporting a robust monitoring and evaluation system.”

The SOB4ES research team will analyse soil biodiversity community composition, its spatial and temporal dynamics, linkages with above-ground biodiversity, and ecological network structures in response to different types and intensities of land uses in order to meet these lofty objectives.

The team’s other objectives include identifying the organic and inorganic elements that affect soil biodiversity directly or indirectly and evaluating the cost-effectiveness of structural and functional indicators of soil biodiversity for EU soils in response to shifts in land use intensity across various pedoclimatic regions.

Designing and putting into practice “soil biodiversity-friendly” land management interventions will require an understanding of the relationships between soil biodiversity and ecosystem services for typical land uses and pedoclimatic regions, as well as the spatial variations of potential drivers and pressures impacting on ecosystem service interactions.

Soil Biodiversity for Ecosystem Services (SOB4ES) will create a standardised and affordable assessment framework that can calculate the direct and indirect Total Economic Values of soil biodiversity per land use type and intensity across various ecosystems in order to incorporate soil biodiversity and its contribution to ecosystem services in EU policy-based incentives.

The identification of priority areas for future ecological restoration and conservation will be made possible by this knowledge.

By actively exchanging knowledge and educating the public about the significance of soil biodiversity and its contribution to ecosystem services, the SOB4ES team will further integrate ecological knowledge of soil biodiversity into Europeans’ daily lives.

By shedding light on the soil system, Dr. Jeffery continued, “we will offer new insights into the life that lives there and the ecosystem services that they provide, upon which our continued existence depends.”