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New global assessment on soil biodiversity

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16 April 2012

The Department for Sustainable Soils and Grassland Systems at BBSRC-funded Rothamsted Research is launching a new Global Scientific Assessment on Soil Biodiversity as a result of an international meeting organized by the Global Soil Biodiversity Initiative (GSBI in London, England, March 2012). At the meeting, scientists and policy makers agreed that advances in understanding of the living organisms in soil and what they do for people and society can be used to help manage and sustain soils for the future. These provisions include clean air, pure water, nutrients for crops, sequestration of carbon, and regulation of pests and disease; therefore a Global Soil Biodiversity Assessment (GSBA) will gather data and examples of how soil biodiversity and its services can be measured and will be the core of GSBI's future action plan that will be presented at Rio+20.

Growing international concern by scientists, policy makers and the public over the status of the world's soils and increased recognition that the life in soil is key to sustaining our food production, ecosystem maintenance and control of global atmosphere and climate warming led to the formation of the GSBI September 20, 2011 during the conference on Soil Science in a Changing World, in Wageningen, The Netherlands. It is a collaborative initiative brought forth by representatives from each of five institutions:

  • Professor Diana Wall, Colorado State University, USA
  • Professor Wim van der Putten, Netherlands Institute of Ecology/Wageningen Centre for Soil Ecology
  • Professor Richard Bardgett, Lancaster Environment Centre, Lancaster University, UK
  • Professor Johan Six, University of California, Davis
  • Dr. Luca Montanarella, European Commission Joint Research Commission

The GSBI, which is open to all interested in sustaining soils, will serve as a primary means of informing and supporting the newly announced Global Soil Partnership signed in Rome September 2012, which brings together 3 international agreements interested in sustaining soils: the Convention on Biological Diversity: the UN Convention on Desertification, and the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, and will be operated by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

As concluded in the London Meeting, the primary focus of the GSBI for the future will be the Global Soil Biodiversity Assessment. Participants defined four additional priorities for GSBI:

  1. Informing policy
  2. Guiding standardization of methods and data synthesis for soil biodiversity and its services
  3. Identifying key scientific challenges for soil biodiversity and its functioning
  4. Providing management options to deliver optimal ecosystem services

The GSBI will hold its next open meeting on April 18, 2012 at the Latin American Congress of Soil Science in Argentina.



The Earth's soils are living, dynamic interfaces that are habitats for millions of microbial and animal species. One square meter of land houses already thousands of soil species. The activities of these soil biota are critical to the wellbeing of humans, because their activities support the delivery of major ecosystem services like food and fibre provision, carbon sequestration and nutrient cycling, clean air and ground water, and they are vital for controlling erosion, and plant, animal and human diseases. However, intensive use and mis-use of soils, or their complete sealing due to urbanization puts the sustainability of these biota-driven services at risk, while the majority of people are hardly aware of the significant role of soil biota. While human population is growing, we need to obtain more goods and services out of a continuously shrinking area of open land. It is essential that we incorporate into future regional and national management and policy plans the growing scientific knowledge on the provision of vital ecosystem services by the large numbers of species that live in the soil. Here, the GSBI represents a global soil biodiversity venture to develop a comprehensive course of action for such issues.


The GSBI will make better use of the current knowledge on soil biodiversity and ecosystem services rather than starting new research. Through this, their mission goals are to:

  • Promote and develop the Global Soil Biodiversity Assessment.
  • Provide evidence and options for management of soil biodiversity to enhance crop production and non-market values (improved clean water and air, soil stabilization and disease control).
  • Exchange knowledge from users and stakeholders at an open science conference in order to set agendas.
  • Provide a central forum for input to IPBES working groups on soil biodiversity and ecosystem services. A framework of agreed soil biodiversity and ecosystem services will be identified.
  • Provide a central focus to the Global Soil Partnership (GSP) for incorporating scientific knowledge on soil biodiversity and ecosystem services.

Sponsor follow-up workshops to identify case studies where integrating soil biodiversity knowledge might improve sustainable management of soils and the ecosystem services. The results will help address the GSP's mission of 'sustainable management of soil resources for food security and climate change adaptation and mitigation'.

Sponsor working groups to assess and integrate results across disciplines that can be used to a) develop scenarios of how climate change or desertification will alter services in relation to (land) management types and types of biomes, and b) identify gaps needed for qualifying/quantifying global soil biodiversity and relating it to ecosystem functioning models.

Connect with the GSBI

Currently, partners from Europe, South America, Africa, Australia/New Zealand and Asia are being approached in order to broaden this initiative, and to increase scientific participation in the GSBI. The GSBI plans to incorporate knowledge of soil biodiversity and the services it provides into organizations involved in soil biodiversity and ecosystem services.

For more information about the collaborative institutions see:

About Rothamsted Research

Rothamsted Research, the longest running agricultural research station in the world, providing cutting-edge science and innovation for around 170 years. It receives strategic funding from BBSRC to deliver the knowledge and new practices to increase crop productivity and quality and to develop environmentally sustainable solutions for food and energy production.

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