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Threats to EU soil biodiversity


IES scientists co-authored a recently published article on a study carried out on potential threats to soil biodiversity in the EU. According to the study results, intense land exploitation is estimated to be the main pressure on soil biodiversity in the EU today.

Soil biodiversity plays a hugely important role in the sustainability of agriculture and ecosystem services, but is an area about which little data exists. While it is widely recognised that many aboveground global species are under threat of extinction, the historical records concerning soil organisms are too limited to categorically quantify the changes that they are also likely to be experiencing. However, localised studies on particular soil species (such as mushrooms, earthworms) have found that many of these are also facing possible extinction, often as a result of invasive species. Physical loss of soil (e.g. through erosion) or other soil degradation processes can lead to a loss of soil biodiversity. Loss of aboveground biodiversity is also likely to lead to increased pressures on and extinction in belowground soil communities.

Map of estimated pressures on EU soil biodiversity

The article bases its findings on the application a soil biodiversity pressure index, using data of the European Soil Data Centre (EDSAC) and other databases available at European level. The study finds that 56% of the EU (25) territory is characterised by varying degrees of potential pressure on soil biodiversity, with 9%, 4% and 1% being exposed to high, very high and extremely high threats respectively. These pressures were classified in order of importance as agricultural intensity (based on nitrogen load), organic carbon (OC) losses, invasive species, compaction, erosion and contamination. Potential pressures on soil biodiversity were found to be particularly high in the UK and central Europe, due to the combined effect of high intensity agriculture, a high number of invasive species, and increased risk of loss of organic carbon. Southern Europe was generally found to be less affected by the risk of organic carbon loss and invasive species.

This study claims to be a first step towards identifying areas within Europe in which soil biodiversity is under most pressure. It can be used to guide policy and future research and monitoring programmes on anthropogenic pressures on soil biodiversity. It also provides a framework methodology for modelling threats to soil biodiversity at different scales which could be applied globally at different scales where datasets are available.

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