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Soil Biodiversity #1: An Introduction

Soil Biodiversity #1: An Introduction 150 150 Soilmentor

Soil Biodiversity #1:
An Introduction

In this 6-part series we will delve into the role soil biodiversity and microbial activity plays in maintaining healthy soil. Read on to find out why focusing on soil biology is a must for all farmers!

Biodiverse soils are home to a rich tapestry of soil organisms – there are more microbes in a teaspoon of soil than there are people on earth! The soil community is made up of different trophic levels and functional groups; from microscopic bacteria and fungi to insects and our favourite wiggly friends, earthworms. These critters, large and small, make up the soil food web.

Soil organisms are an essential component in carbon and nutrient cycling, making nutrients available for plant uptake and creating stable forms of carbon stored in the soil. They create aggregated soil structure, allowing water and air, which are essential for plant growth, to percolate through the soil profile. They naturally buffer soil borne pests and diseases, purify water, clean up pollutants and boost resilience to climatic and environmental changes.

Each organism specialises in a particular function which is key to maintaining healthy soil. The whole biological community works together to provide these functions, it is tricky to isolate just a few organisms which are required, really you need a diverse mix. If soil biodiversity goes into decline, soil structure breaks down, leaving it vulnerable to erosion, as soil is unable to soak up moisture, leaving water to run off, taking soil and nutrients with it. Does this sound familiar – have you seen bare patches of soil and muddy water spilling into a nearby stream or river?

Relationships between soil biodiversity and food security pillars through soil processes and ecosystem functioning and services. Black arrows and black dashed arrows indicate, respectively, major and minor roles of functional groups on soil processes. Gray arrows indicate the relationships among supporting, regulating and provisioning ecosystem services.

Soil biodiversity is declining on many farms due to agricultural intensification and climate change. When we farm soils, we mine nutrients to grow crops, but are we putting these back in a way which improves soil health? Feeding soil with synthetic fertilisers is very disruptive to the soil community, rendering many of their functions redundant. If we begin to take the approach of nurturing our soil community, we will be richly rewarded with all the functions they can provide.

Stay tuned for the next installments in this series to hear more about functions soil biodiversity provide.

Sources

European Commission. (2010). The Factory of life: Why soil biodiversity is so important. Retrieved from: https://ec.europa.eu/environment/archives/soil/pdf/soil_biodiversity_brochure_en.pdf

Mujtar, V, E., Muñoz, N., Prack Mc Cormick, B., Pulleman, M., Tittonellad, P. (2019). Role and management of soil biodiversity for food security and nutrition; where do we stand? Retrieved from: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2211912418300300?via%3Dihub

Plaas, E., Meyer-Wolfarth, F., Banse, M., Bengtsson, J., Bergmann, H., et al. (2019). Towards valuation of biodiversity in agricultural soils: A case for earthworms. Retrieved from: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0921800918304610?via%3Dihub

van Leeuwen, J., Creamer, R., Cluzeau, D., Debeljak, M., Gatti, F., et al. (2019). Modeling of Soil Functions for Assessing Soil Quality: Soil Biodiversity and Habitat Provisioning. Frontiers in Environmental Science, Frontiers, 7, pp.113. Retrieved from: https://hal-agrocampus-ouest.archives-ouvertes.fr/hal-02280390/

Preparing for soil tests in your fields

Preparing for soil tests in your fields 1600 1067 Soilmentor

There are a few things to think about before getting started with soil tests, but don’t worry, we’ve laid them out in this handy step by step guide. It will take you no time at all to get ready!

 

1. Decide which fields to test

How many fields do you want to test? Which fields do you want to understand better? Is the soil type consistent across the fields you want to test? It’s not necessary to test all your fields, but depending on what you want to learn we can help you choose. Find more info on how to decide here.

 

 

 

2. Which soil tests should I do?

The type of farm and management goals determine which tests are relevant, there’s a wide variety and it’s not necessary to do all of them! For those not sure where to start try out these five tests which we’ve found are the most useful for all different types of farms.

 

 

 

3. When and how often to do the tests

There are different rhythms and frequencies you can try. The basic setup is to do all chosen tests in each field on 1 day in Spring or Autumn, so just once a year. The better setup is to do the tests twice a year, on 1 day in Spring and 1 day in Autumn and repeat annually. The best setup is more complex, read about it here and see the seasonal calendar if you want to mix and match for yourself.

 

 

4. Where on the field to do the tests

We recommend 3 sample sites in each field, although you may want to do more if you have more time or very large fields! To choose 3 sample sites we recommend finding a ‘best spot’, ‘worst spot’ and ‘average spot’ in each field you’re testing. You can return to the same spots over time using GPS in the Soilmentor app. Some tests (such as plate metering) require more random sampling. For these tests you can do a ‘W’ shaped walk through your field and add your recordings under the ‘W Walk’ category in your app. More info here.

 

 

 5. Gather your soil test kit

Everything needed to do most tests should be available at home, but set aside some time to get it all together. Find a full kit list here. At the very least you need a smartphone with the Soilmentor app and a spade. Dog is optional!

 

 

 

6. Soilmentor account

There’s a quick bit of setting up to do on computer and smartphone before getting outside. Firstly you can use a computer (or tablet) to create a Soilmentor account and set up the fields to monitor. Secondly, download the app in preparation for getting outside and logging test results. If you’ve signed up for Soilmentor already then look out for our email with instructions!

 

 

7. Let us know how you get on!

We’d love to hear how you get on with soil testing! Let us know on Twitter, Instagram, or send us an email! If you’d like more information about signing up to Soilmentor, please don’t hesitate get in touch with us – info@vidacycle.com.