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Highlight: Launch of the Soil Atlas of Latin America and the Caribbean


The first ever comprehensive overview of the soils of Latin America and the Caribbean, coordinated by the JRC in collaboration with soil scientists from Europe, Latin America and the Caribbean, was launched at the Annual Meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) in Chicago on 14 February 2014. The Atlas was funded by the European Commission's DG Development and Cooperation - EUROCLIMA Programme which aims to strengthen sustainable development strategies in Latin America. 

Part of the IES' Soil Atlas series, this latest Atlas uses colourful maps and illustrations to explain the diversity and functions of soils across the 17 countries of Central and South America and the Caribbean, home to 580 million people and some of the world's most biodiverse ecosystems. The Atlas raises awareness about how land use can influence climate and vice versa, and shows how important soil is to food security.

More than half of arable land in Latin America is estimated to be subject to land degradation due to land use (especially deforestation), over-exploitation, climate change and lack of resources. The Atlas presents a number of strategies for soil preservation and conservation.

The first edition, entitled 'el Atlas de suelos de América Latina y el Caribe', is published in Spanish, with Portuguese and English versions to follow shortly.

Some key facts from the Atlas:

• Tropical areas, which represent one third of the region, are characterised by acid soils. The soils of extensive forests are naturally low in nutrients. Soil productivity falls rapidly after clearance of the forest unless extensive fertiliser and liming regimes are applied.

• 20% of the region is covered by arid soils where agriculture depends on irrigation.

• Naturally fertile soils extend over only about 10% of the area, mainly in the Argentine Pampas where the prairie soils are rich in minerals and mixed with volcanic materials.

• According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), 14% of all degraded land in the world is found in the region covered by the atlas, and affects 150 million people.

• Soils in Latin America support an enormous wealth of biodiversity, with six out of the seventeen countries hosting the highest rate of biodiversity on the planet. Particularly in the Amazon Basin, countless invertebrates, fungi and a myriad of bacteria – the majority of which are unknown to science – can be found.

• The soils of Latin America and the Caribbean store approximately 185 Gt of organic carbon down to a depth of 1 metre. This is almost double the aboveground carbon stock of the vegetation in the Amazon Basin.

• While climate change would have a significant impact on the use and functions of soil, the effects of climate change may be mitigated by the storage of carbon in soils.

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