A popular topic in sustainability and a key component in any discussion of ecosystem services is biodiversity. Put simply, biodiversity is the variety and abundance of organisms in a given landscape or ecosystem. When thinking about biodiversity, most people begin with the plants and animals that they can visually identify. While these macroorganisms certainly help to define the biodiversity of an area, they make up only a fraction of a given ecosystem.
The abundance of flora and fauna in an area is dependent on a number of variables, but especially soil composition and health. Thinking in terms of trophic levels, this makes sense. Without healthy soil there is a limit to plant development and diversity, which in turn limits the ability of animals to populate an area. Therefore biodiversity starts from the ground up.
ScienceDaily recently summarized a study focusing on soil biodiversity and its influence on grassland structure and performance. This study (led by Yale) determined that plant diversity and performance is especially influenced by soil organic content. Researchers found that the absence of earthworms, beetles, and other soil-based organisms had a remarkable effect on plant productivity.
This study helps us to understand the relationships between organisms and the influence these relationships have over the surrounding landscape. “The results reflect the long-term ecological impacts of land use changes, such as the conversion of forests to agricultural land, researchers say.” Understanding the connections between soil biodiversity and landscape structure is of increasing importance as our population grows and agriculture intensifies. If we continue to apply toxic chemicals to our crops, we might discourage soil biodiversity and eventually condemn these landscapes to a barren state.
To read more about the study follow the links to the summary or the scientific article.