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    Ecologist joins launch of European research project into soil biodiversity

    Posted 14 June 2023

    “By shining a light into the soil system we will provide new insights into the life that lives there and the ecosystem services that they provide - upon which our continued existence depends.”

    A man's hands around a clod of soil

    A soil ecologist from Harper Adams University is among a Europe-wide group of experts who will be attending the launch of a research project aimed at assessing  soil biodiversity and ecosystem services.

    Reader in Soil Ecology Dr Simon Jeffery will be attending the inaugural meeting of the multidisciplinary consortium being the European research project SOB4ES.

    The consortium is led by Professor Dr Maria J. I. Briones from Universidade de Vigo, Span, where representatives from its 17 EU-partners and two associated partners will convene. Together, they will develop and test applicable indicators for soil biodiversity and ecosystem services for policy evaluation in support of the EU Soil Strategy.

    The goal of the EU Soil Strategy is that by 2050, all soils in the EU should be healthy. Soil health means that soils continuously provide as many ecosystem services in the greatest variety as possible.

    However, in order to make progress, it is essential to fully integrate soil biodiversity in land management and planning. Currently, soil biodiversity receives little attention in large monitoring efforts when compared other groups, such as higher plants and vertebrates. Consequently, the contribution soil biodiversity makes to ecosystem services is vastly overlooked, not objectively quantifiable, invisible to society, and lacks integration into EU regulations and policy instruments.

    To address this, careful examination of soil biodiversity status and its contribution to various ecosystem services under various land uses is needed, including soils from urban, agriculture, forest, semi-natural, wetland, dryland, industrial and mining environments.

    The research project SOB4ES (Integrating SOil Biodiversity to Ecosystem Services) aims to develop an integrated framework that fully includes soil biodiversity contribution to ecosystem services across relevant spatial and temporal scales. The consortium will also test the cost-effectiveness of soil biodiversity indicators that reliably reflect the effects of land management on the delivery of ecosystem services under a range of land use conditions representative for Europe.

    Dr Maria J. I. Briones, Professor at the Departamento de Ecología y Biología Animal at the Universidade de Vigo and coordinator of the SOB4ES consortium said: “The challenge is to provide knowledge on soil biodiversity to allow policy makers to integrate effective soil biodiversity conservation measures into EU legislation, such as regarding soil health. Therefore, the long-term aim of SOB4ES is to support the EU Soil Strategy and the upcoming Soil Health Law with policy developments that include concrete measures and incentives for ensuring the protection, restoration and sustainable use of soils across the EU.

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

    To reach these ambitious goals, the SOB4ES research team will assess soil biodiversity community composition, its spatial and temporal dynamics, linkages with above-ground biodiversity and ecological network structures in response to land uses types and intensity. The team also aims to identify natural and human-induced factors that directly or indirectly drive soil biodiversity changes and to test the cost-effectiveness of known soil biodiversity structural and functional indicators for EU soils in response to changes in land use intensity across different pedoclimatic regions.

    Understanding the interrelationships between soil biodiversity and ecosystem services for representative land uses and pedoclimatic regions, as well as the spatial variations of potential drivers and pressures impacting on ecosystem services interactions will be essential to design and implement ‘soil biodiversity-friendly’ land management interventions.

    In order to integrate soil biodiversity and its contribution to ecosystem services in EU policy-based incentives, SOB4ES will develop a harmonised and cost-effective assessment framework that can estimate the direct and indirect Total Economic Values of soil biodiversity per land use type and intensity across different ecosystems. This knowledge will enable the identification of priority areas for future ecological restoration and conservation.

    With these newly gained insights, the SOB4ES team will also integrate ecological knowledge of soil biodiversity into the daily life of Europeans by interactively exchanging knowledge, raising public awareness and societal appreciation of the vital functions of soil biodiversity and its contribution to ecosystem services.

    Dr Jeffery added: “By shining a light into the soil system we will provide new insights into the life that lives there and the ecosystem services that they provide - upon which our continued existence depends.”

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