Changing rainfall patterns impact soil invertebrate biodiversity

Globular springtail Sminthuridae sp. on leaf litter.

Human destruction of natural habitats and climate change are probably reducing invertebrate populations in many regions. We still don’t have much information about threats to flying invertebrates, but we have even less information for those that live in the soil. This is despite the fact that soils are teeming with life. Did you know that they are home to over over 7 million invertebrate species – around one third of all invertebrates in the world?

A new study, published in the journal Global Change Biology, aimed to tackle this lack of information, by looking at how changes in rainfall caused by climate change affect soil invertebrates in forests. The study, which is the largest of its kind, compiled data from 46 forests around the world, finding that droughts reduce the number of soil invertebrates by around 35%, while increases in rainfall lead to increases of a similar magnitude.

Importantly, the international team from six different countries, led by researchers from the Basque Centre for Climate Change in Spain, found that the effect of rainfall changes depend on an animal’s size: groups like springtails and mites were more severely affected than smaller animals like nematodes or larger animals such as beetles.

Before this study, scientists had not made the link between the size of soil animals and the potential effects of environmental threats. These new findings have far-reaching implications for our ability to predict future responses of soil invertebrates to climate change as well as their potential impacts on soil functioning and health.

The variation in impacts between different groups is important because the species that are most affected by changes in rainfall include many detritivore species. These species help to improve soil health by breaking down the dead leaves that blanket forest floors. In the long term, reductions in their abundance might threaten ecosystem services like nutrient cycling that help to support tree growth in forests on which we depend for carbon storage and provision of wood for timber.

Another implication is that soil invertebrates in different regions will be affected differently. For example, forests in regions where climate change is causing an increase in droughts, like southern Europe and central America, will see decreases in the abundance of soil invertebrates. On the other hand, in regions where rainfall will increase, like northern Europe and North America, forest soil invertebrates can be expected to increase.

So what can we do to tackle the threat of changes in rainfall to soil invertebrates? First and foremost we should focus on combating the climate crisis by reducing our carbon footprints by flying less, eating less meat, and making our homes more energy efficient.

However, even if we manage to reduce carbon emissions, we still face dangerous climate change and so we need to change how we manage ecosystems. One promising way to reduce the impacts of droughts on soil invertebrates is by spreading mulch on forest soils, which acts like a sunshade to protect against hot and dry conditions.

To tackle the impacts of the climate crisis on soils we urge decision-makers to take the threats to forest soils seriously and to fund and promote adaptations to current management.




This article was written by Phil Martin (BC3 – Basque Centre for Climate Change).

Job opportunity in Climate-Smart Forestry at EFI

mountains and forest

The European Forest Institute is seeking a Researcher / Senior Researcher on Climate-Smart Forestry. The Researcher / Senior Researcher will participate in collaborative projects and research proposals of relevance to Climate-Smart Forestry.

The position focuses on improving and synthesizing the understanding of the development of European forest ecosystems – including soil – and their biodiversity and ecosystem service provisioning under different climate scenarios and climate-smart management options. The tasks include the development and application of tools and models (e.g., EFISCEN-Space model, Integrate+ mobile app.)

Deadline for application: 24 May 2024.

Read all the details about this position and find out how to apply!

Conserving the soil, one of the great challenges facing science and humanity

Soil

Originally published in The Conversation in Spanish.

Achieving the health of all European soils by 2050 is the challenge set by the Soil Monitoring Act, a directive proposed by the European Commission in July 2023. On 11 March, the European Parliament adopted its draft position on this regulation, which aims to promote soil conservation and restoration.

In the absence of final agreement, it seems that preserving soil health as one of the major challenges facing our society is finally starting to be taken seriously. The ambitious objective will be addressed by establishing a robust and coherent monitoring framework for the whole territory of the European Union.

Schematic cross-section of the earth. Soil is a very thin layer of about 1 m of continental crust, but its role is essential for life on the planet. MaxKario / Wikimedia Commons, CC BY

For those of us who study soil this is welcome news. For the general public, however, the subject remains largely unknown.

The substrate that sustains us

Soil is that very thin layer of the lithosphere (1 metre or so) that supports all life in the terrestrial environment of the planet. It is the substrate where all the plants that make up the base of the trophic pyramid, in which humans occupy the apex, grow.

It is also the intermediary between the inert mineral world, the atmosphere (the gaseous layer surrounding the earth) and the biosphere, responsible for connecting the three and for life as we know it.

It also acts as a refuge for a large part of the planet’s biodiversity and is one
of our great allies in the fight against climate change, as it is the second
largest carbon sink after the oceans, with enormous potential to continue sequestering carbon.

A food web starts at trophic level 1 with primary producers such as plants. The soil is responsible for sustaining the production of this base trophic level. Roddelgado / Wikimedia Commons, CC BY

Why is it so important to preserve it?

Today, more than 60% of European soils are unhealthy. In recent decades, global population growth, unsustainable land management, climate change and extreme weather events have accelerated soil degradation.

This scenario means a gradual loss of the biosphere’s capacity to produce food, livestock feed and fiber. Other services directly provided by the soil, such as nutrient cycling, carbon sequestration, pest control or regulation of the water cycle, are also undermined. This is costing the European Union at least 50 billion euros a year.

The problem is that, despite its importance, it is a fragile and practically non-renewable resource, as its recovery process is very slow. Once degraded, it takes centuries to recover. Therefore, conserving it is much more cost-effective than restoring it.

What challenges does science face?

We are faced with a huge black box that we need to unravel if we are to achieve the ambitious goals set out in the Soil Monitoring Act. We are not dealing with a system that is easy to study, but with a three-dimensional physical matrix of great biological and chemical complexity and high spatial heterogeneity, where thousands of species coexist, representing all kingdoms of life.

This complexity is compounded by logistical difficulties in the study of these subterranean ecosystems. These can only be overcome through the combined use of different methodologies (observational, experimental, models, inventories), which requires a lot of effort and interdisciplinary and international collaboration.

On the other hand, we still need to learn more about how they function in order to predict future responses to global change. Current prediction models represent the soil in a very simplistic way from a biological point of view. To realistically integrate its complexity, we need more data, taking into account the heterogeneity of this system.

Another challenge is to generate universal indicators of degradation, beyond those that have already been proposed, such as the ratio of carbon to clay. Again, research is needed to develop reliable indicators that can be used in decision-making.

Finally, it is urgent to study and design strategies to assist the soil and accelerate its recovery. This is a challenge for science, considering that the process of soil formation (pedogenesis) takes centuries to millennia.




This article was originally written by Jorge Curiel Yuste (BC3 – Basque Centre for Climate Change) on The Conversation.

Enhancing SOC reporting: capacity building for developing countries through the HoliSoils project

Rainforest

Soil organic carbon (SOC) is not well addressed in the reporting and monitoring system in developing countries, affecting the global carbon budget and global climate change mitigate policy. To address this gap, the UNFCCC Secretariat organised a webinar in collaboration with HoliSoils project coordinator Natural Resources Institute Finland (Luke).  

The “Webinar on Soil Organic Carbon to Support National Greenhouse Gas Inventories from Developing Countries under the Enhanced Transparency Framework of the Paris Agreement” aimed to improve the technical knowledge of developing country experts on Soil organic Carbon and ensure the presence of a significant pool of soil experts in developing countries. 

Held between 16 and 18 April 2024, the online meeting was organised by Sabin Guendehou (UNFCCC secretariat and member of the HoliSoils Stakeholder and End-User Advisory Board). It featured approaches for estimating soil organic carbon, including a multi-model ensemble tool which simulates SOC and GHG fluxes, developed by HoliSoils project partners Elisa Bruni and Bertrand Guenet (French National Centre for Scientific Research). HoliSoils project coordinators Raisa Mäkipää and Aleksi Lehtonen (LUKE) provided insights into understanding, measuring and reporting on SOC in agriculture, forestry and other land-use. Marta Gómez Giménez (Remote Sensing & Geospatial Analytics, GMV Aerospace and Defense SAU, Spain), who works together with Bertrand Guenet on the MRV4SOC project, provided a conceptual approach for establishing MRV systems for SOC in developing countries.

The webinar gathered 371 participants from 69 developing countries across Africa, Asia-Pacific and Eastern Europe, Latin America and the Caribbean. Following the webinar, participants will be provided with additional technical support in two key areas: 

  • Calibration of soil model based on the tool presented during the webinar. 
  • Set-up and maintenance of Measurement, Reporting and Verification (MRV) for SOC. 

A new webinar is planned for 2025 to focus on topics to be identified by participating developing countries. 

Download the presentations (PDF):

Have a look at the webinar agenda of the 2024 webinar! 

Check out the webinar recordings, available in English, French and Spanish!

Soil health monitoring requires multiple indicators and continuous measurements

Moss and mushrooms.

This post was originally published on Luke website.

A major new law on soil health in Europe is being prepared in the European Union, and scientists report that one of the proposed indicators is not fit for purpose.

Operational monitoring of soil carbon is vital to improve soil-based ecosystem services, as stated in the Paris Climate Agreement and other national commitments. As a significant proportion of Europe’s soils are unhealthy, new regulation is needed. The European Union is committed to improving soil health and is currently developing a new Soil Monitoring Law that will establish monitoring a set of different soil health indicators.

HoliSoils and Benchmarks researchers are actively contributing to the ongoing process on this European Soil Monitoring Law by testing one of the proposed indicators. A recent publication shows that the ratio of soil organic carbon to clay (SOC:Clay), proposed as part of the new law to measure soil carbon loss, is not a reliable indicator for soil health.

Single indicator and its threshold value does not adequately reflect the diversity of European soils

The joint publication by EU funded HoliSoils and Benchmarks projects assessed the feasibility of the SOC:Clay indicator by evaluating its performance using data from the pan-European 2009 LUCAS soil survey. The results were also compared with changes in soil carbon stocks reported by countries to the UNFCCC.

Based on these findings, the researchers concluded that the SOC:Clay indicator proposed by the European Commission in the Soil Monitoring Law does not adequately monitor soil carbon status. They demonstrated that the use of this single indicator and its proposed threshold value of 1:13 for all soils under different land cover, management practices and climatic conditions, cannot account for the diversity of European soils, management practices, and climatic conditions.

The results also show that the SOC:Clay indicator provides an inconsistent conclusion on the proportions of non-healthy soils identified by using the SOC:Clay indicator when compared to changes in soil carbon stocks reported by national greenhouse gas (GHG) inventories. GHG inventories estimate changes in soil carbon stocks through repeated measurements or modelling. However, the proposed indicator, which would be based on the sampling and analysis of soil samples taken at a single point in time, may have therefore temporal limitations.

Soil monitoring indicators and tools need further development

The proposal for the Soil Monitoring Law has been discussed and voted on by the EU Parliament, after which it will be subject to further trilogue negotiations which will remain the responsibility of the next Parliament after the EU elections in June. Trilogue brings together the representatives of the European Parliament, the Council of the European Union and the European Commission and aims to reach a provisional agreement on the legislative proposal.

“The sustainable production of ecosystem services relies on healthy soils. To achieve this across Europe, as outlined in the Soil Monitoring Law, various actions must be taken in different regions. In addition to the indicators to be determined at the EU level, national tools are also necessary to monitor soil status and maintain soil health that meet the needs of different actors” says Raisa Mäkipää, Research Professor at Luke, HoliSoils project coordinator.

HoliSoils and Benchmarks researchers are committed to providing scientific input to the ongoing process of developing the new Soil Monitoring Law that best supports Europe’s important promise of healthy soils.

HoliSoils partners preparing numerous products in project’s penultimate year 

The HoliSoils project annual meeting gave consortium partners and stakeholder representatives the chance to discuss HoliSoils’ results and potential products in detail. 

HoliSoils is already in its penultimate year, and this year’s gathering brought into focus the depth of work being carried out in the project, from soil and forest management strategies, biophysical research linked to disturbance and to microbiological processes, to modelling, data and monitoring frameworks for greenhouse gas emissions (GHG).  

A detailed session focused on the various maps being developed through the project, and how the wealth of information will be accessible to potential end users. 

Two poster sessions allowed participants to dive more deeply into the research being carried out in the project. Many of the project’s post docs shared their work on specific research questions, and there was a second session focussing on experimental studies being carried out at the project’s test sites around Europe, as well as at the one from Uruguay. 

The HoliSoils Stakeholder and End-user Advisory Board (SEAB) has been instrumental in helping partners consider how different stakeholder groups in the project might use their findings and results. Their active engagement has made a real difference and in the dedicated panel session at this year’s meeting, the ten members who participated (nine in person and one online!) did not disappoint, sharing useful insights, critical questions and offering valuable advice in a fruitful conversation with the consortium. 


The consortium and SEAB members were also treated to two extremely interesting field excursions, the first to witness experiments being carried out on a peatland GHG site, the second to visit Kranzberg drought experiments in planted forests of spruce and beech, where one of the HoliSoils test sites is located. 

The fruits of all this labour will become available as results are published, via publications, web portals, updated modelling tools and recommendations for policy and practice. The challenge now and until the end of the project is to make sure that HoliSoils products reach as many people as possible so that all its stakeholders can benefit. 

Stay up to date with HoliSoils products as they become available: the HoliSoils toolkit is continuously updated and our repository in Zenodo already has many papers, with more added as they come out! 


Time to get serious about forest soil

HoliSoils researcher at work.

Originally published in Publico.es in Spanish.

European legislation on forests and climate and the forthcoming legislation on soil quality place particular emphasis on the importance of the soils that support our forests. These soils store more carbon and biodiversity than the trees they feed and are full of water and nutrients that provide a myriad of services. The European Union warns that, in general, degraded soils reduce the provision of ecosystem services such as food, timber, nutrient cycling, carbon sequestration, pest control or water regulation – a loss that costs the EU billions of euros every year. After the degradation of urban, industrial and agricultural soils, forests can be a lifeline against impacts such as climate change.

In the forests of Gamiz, a council of the city of Vitoria (Álava) located in the foothills of the Vitoria Mountains, work is being carried out as part of what is considered “the largest research project in Europe on the central, though little understood, role of forest soils in the fight against climate change”. This is what is stated in HoliSoils, an acronym for Holistic management practices, modelling & monitoring for European forest soils, a project of the EU’s Horizon 2020 programme in which 20 European universities and research centres are participating, including four Spanish ones.

The work being carried out in Gamiz includes that done by Jorge Curiel, the principal researcher in Spain at HoliSoils, who also leads the working group dedicated to the vulnerability of soils to climate change. He stops for a moment to talk to us: “We have three plots with a common design where we test, on the one hand, how different types of wood extraction affect the soil, such as 50% thinning and clear-cutting – cutting down all the trees in a forest area – and, on the other, how we can accelerate soil recovery with two treatments: in one we leave the soil bare and in the other we use the remains of the cutting, which are broken up and spread to create a layer that protects it and accelerates its recovery”.

An important part of this work is to analyse the carbon sequestration achieved by forest management taking into account different soil treatments. Forest soils store more carbon than trees, thanks to the combined action of dead wood, litter and the innumerable associated fauna, flora, and fungal communities, including other important micro-organisms such as protists, bacteria, and archaea.

Forest soils: champions of carbon sequestration

Gonzalo Almendros, research professor at the Department of Biogeochemistry and Microbial Ecology of the National Museum of Natural Sciences (MNCN/CSIC), highlights this value in figures: “In general, soils contain 2,500 petagrams of carbon (one petagram is equivalent to one thousand trillion grams), that is, more than three times the amount of atmospheric carbon and four times the amount stored in the biomass of plants and animals. Therefore, the interest in forest soils lies in the fact that they constitute a reservoir of carbon in slowly biodegradable forms, which is not actively exchanged with CO2 in the atmosphere”.

But there is a risk that climate change will accelerate this loss of soil carbon, as Pablo García-Palacios, a scientist at the Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas at the Instituto de Ciencias Agrarias (ICA-CSIC), pointed out in a study published in June 2021 in the journal Nature: “Until now, the size of the carbon pool has been balanced annually between carbon losses from soil respiration and gains from carbon fixation by plants. However, anthropogenic warming is disturbing this balance”.

HoliSoils, like other European projects working in the same direction (DrySom, Benchmark, Atlantis, etc.), seeks to halt the loss of valuable forest soil, which is why not only research centres are involved in it, but also associations of forest owners, the European Environment Agency, the United Nations Convention on Climate Change and the FSC forest certification seal. Dozens of forest plots in various countries with different climates, tree species and management are serving as test laboratories.

Undergrowth in Peñacaballera, Sierra de Béjar, Salamanca. Photo: Javier Rico.

Every soil is a world

Each soil is different depending on all these factors: climate, altitude, trees, type of management, slope… There is nothing like taking a look at some of the almost 2,900 entries on the blog Un universo bajo nuestros pies (A universe beneath our feet) to make sure of this. It is the work of Juan José Ibáñez, senior scientist at the Desertification Research Centre (CSIC-University of Valencia), who constantly repeats that “soil is a very fragile and non-renewable resource”. There are soils dominated by leaf litter, in others by the herbaceous stratum, in others by scrub, and in some there is more moss, or rocky and stony ground, or a bit of everything. Ibañez even claims the value of dead wood: “The fall of a tree is essential for the maintenance of the dynamics of forest ecosystems and their soils”.

In this variety of soils and their composition also lies the ability to adapt to impacts such as those induced by climate change. Ana Rey, MNCN/CSIC scientist and expert in forest ecology, says: “Preliminary results of a study we are carrying out in Mediterranean forests on different types of soils indicate that forests with soils that are in principle more unfavourable seem to be less susceptible to drought, because they have already developed an adaptation to extreme conditions. Therefore, although they grow less, they are more resilient”. According to Jorge Curiel, “in the Iberian Peninsula, the most fragile forests are on steeper slopes, with more erosion potential, which increases depending on the type of management they have”.


Curiel is also a research professor at one of the centres participating in HoliSoils, the BC3 (Basque Centre for Climate Change). He says that all the work carried out (types of felling, soil treatments, placement of sensors, analysis of carbon sequestration, inventory of organisms, measurement of soil health parameters) “serves, first, to generate evidence that what is being done so far is not correct and, second, to generate more responsible management practices focused on soil conservation”.

Time to get serious about forest soil

Raisa Mäkipää, coordinator of HoliSoils and research professor at the Natural Resources Institute of Finland, stresses: “Soils really matter, but they have not been studied enough, especially forest soils. By learning more about how they trap and release CO2, countries can help ensure that their forests can adapt to and mitigate climate change”.

In the meantime, the EU has also got down to work. On 5 July 2023, the European Commission (EC) presented the proposal for a Directive of the European Parliament and of the Council on soil monitoring and soil resilience. The main objective is to achieve a healthy state of EU soils by 2050. It recognises that soil degradation costs us tens of billions of euros per year by affecting basic ecosystem services that provide important economic benefits: food, timber, carbon sequestration, pest control, erosion control, etc.

The variety of soils and their composition also determines the capacity of forests to adapt to impacts such as those induced by climate change. Photo: Javier Rico.

Without departing from the economic line, the proposed directive mentions: “The availability of healthy and fertile soils and land is crucial for the transition to a sustainable bioeconomy and can therefore help to increase and preserve land values”. In an article in The Conversation, Jorge Curiel and four other BC3 researchers stress that “the bioeconomy should take into account forest soil conservation”, but he warns: “We cannot expect the bioeconomy to cover all the production and business niches that are currently covered by other materials such as concrete or petroleum derivatives because, like these, natural resources are not infinite”.

One of the mainstays of the forest bioeconomy is the extraction of biomass for energy production. The Spanish Biomass Association (Avebiom) they state: “The companies that carry out works of exploitation and extraction of this biomass must comply with the requirements imposed by the EU Renewable Energy Directive, and they are doing so, many of them with the help of the European certification system SURE (Sustainable Resources Verification Scheme)”. In addition, they consider that removing biomass from forests for energy recovery “contributes to increasing the resilience of our forests to increasingly dangerous forest fires and climate change. Keeping the destructive power of fires and forest stress at bay is also a way of caring for soils and biodiversity”.

No planting for planting’s sake

Ana Rey considers how we should deal with reforestation very important: “When we talk about reforestation, about planting trees, we must remember that a forest is not just trees, because sometimes we ignore the complexity of forests and the many ecosystem services they provide, including the great importance of the soil. We have to take into account the type of soil we plant in and the species we plant”. Almendros stresses: “Each situation has to be studied separately, taking into account climate, soil type and the quality of pre-existing organic matter.”

Much remains to be done. The EC itself, in its proposal for a directive on soil monitoring and resilience, estimates: “More than 60% of European soils are unhealthy and scientific evidence shows that they are being further degraded due to unsustainable land management, pollution and overexploitation, combined with the impact of climate change and extreme weather events”.

Career Opportunity in Terrestrial Ecosystem Ecology at the University of Helsinki

people working

The Faculty of Biological and Environmental Sciences of the University of Helsinki is seeking applications for the position of Professor or Assistant/Associate Professor in Terrestrial Ecosystem Ecology.

The candidate is expected to have a strong track record in the field of terrestrial ecosystem ecology and to be committed to excellence in research, research training and undergraduate education.

The deadline for applications is 29 February 2024.

Find out all the details about this opportunity!

Become Luke’s new Principal Scientist in forest soil science

Mushroom in a forest

HoliSoils’ project coordinator Natural Resources Institute Finland (Luke) is looking for a Principal Scientist to strengthen soil research in the institute. The selected candidate will work to develop and lead Luke’s research on carbon and nutrient cycling processes in forest soils on mineral soil sites, and how these processes are controlled.

The research will focus on soil carbon and nutrient cycling processes, nutrient availability, and organic matter quality. The objective is to better understand the linkages between these factors, and their significance both for the biomass production of forest ecosystems and for the environmental and climate impacts. The main focus should be on the response of soil processes and properties to forest management in changing environment and climate.

The position of Principal Scientist is permanent. The tasks include planning and leading research projects and working in those, as well as developing both field and laboratory methods connected to the research topics. The Principal Scientist is expected to publish at international scientific level, acquire research funding and be active in both national and international collaboration networks.

The deadline for applications is 23 February 2024, 16:00 Finnish time.

Read all the details on this opportunity & discover how to apply!

Postdoc opportunity in Microbial Ecology of Forest Soils

Mushrooms in a forest.

The Laboratory of Environmental Microbiology of the Institute of Microbiology of the Czech Academy of Sciences is looking for a motivated postdoctoral fellow to join the international consortium of HoliSoils, an H2020 project that explores the effects of forest management on ecosystem processes such as greenhouse gas fluxes, C storage and biodiversity preservation. The selected candidate will be involved in the study of the structural and functional response of the soil microbiome to forest management, disturbances and global change across Europe and will have the opportunity to collaborate with leading groups in this research field.

Read all the details about this position and find out how to apply!

Share This