New atlas illustrates global soil biodiversity and threats to soil organisms
The JRC publishes the first-ever Global Soil Biodiversity Atlas that maps the soil biodiversity of the entire planet. This unique Atlas pays tribute to soil – the silent engine that keeps the planet alive – by providing a detailed analysis of soil organisms and the threats to soil biodiversity at global scale. The Atlas will be launched by the JRC at the 2nd UN Environment Assembly (UNEA) in Nairobi on 25 May.
Global Soil Biodiversity Atlas
The Atlas describes soil as habitat for the diversity of organisms that live under our feet. At the same time, it draws attention to the threats to soil biodiversity, such as invasive species, pollution, intensive land use practices or climate change. The Atlas provides current solutions for a sustainable management of soils.
It was coordinated by the JRC and the Global Soil Biodiversity Initiative (www.globalsoilbiodiversity.org) with more than 70 contributing organisations and several hundred individual contributions. It illustrates the diversity of soil organisms, explains their geographical and temporal distribution, the ecosystem functions and services provided by soil biota. Most importantly, it draws attention to the myriad of threats to soil biodiversity. These include inappropriate land management practices (e.g. deforestation, land take for infrastructure development), agricultural systems, over-grazing, forest fires and poor water management (both irrigation and drainage). Other practices such as land conversion from grassland or forest to cropped land result in rapid loss of soil carbon, which indirectly enhances global warming.
The Atlas shows that mismanaging soils could exacerbate the effects of climate change, jeopardise agricultural production, compromise the quality of ground water and worsen pollution. It also proposes solutions to safeguard soil biodiversity through the development of policies that directly or indirectly target soil health, leading to a more sustainable use.
In addition to the JRC, which led the European Commission’s contribution, the Editorial Board of the atlas comprised the University of Manchester, the Consultative Group for International Agricultural Research - World Agroforestry Centre, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, University of Vigo, Institute of Research for the Development France, Wageningen University, Netherlands Institute of Ecology, London Natural History Museum, University of Colorado, University of Reading, Lund University, Harper Adams University, Northern Arizona University, University of Hohenheim, Yokohama National University, Pierre and Marie Curie University, French National Institute for Agricultural Research, University of Lavras, University of Göttingen, University of Western Sydney, and Colorado State University.
Soil: a fundamental element for food and life
Global food security is dependent on life found beneath our feet 98% of all global daily calories derive from actions from the soil biodiversity. Crop yield and conditions for animal husbandry are dependent on soil fertility, which in turn, is conditioned by the interactions of soil-dwelling communities.
Soils provide a rich habitat, which may contain more than 10 000 species per square metre. A single gram of soil may contain millions of individual cells and thousands of species of bacteria. Soil organisms also maintain critical processes, such as carbon storage, nutrient cycling and plant species diversity and play a key role in maintaining soil fertility.
Existing policies related to soil biodiversity
The European Commission’s Soil Thematic Strategy sets out common principles for protecting soils across the EU. Globally, recent developments such as the UN climate summit in Paris, the Sustainable Development Goals and the Global Soil Partnership have highlighted an increasing realisation of the importance of soils and the life within them. Presently, no country has legislation that specifically protects soil biodiversity.
How to obtain the atlas
Digital version of the atlas is available for free download via the JRC, the GSBI and EU Bookshop. Printed copies can be purchased from the EU Bookshop.