Monday, 3 March 2014

The Global Soil Biodiversity Initiative

by Carly Benefer

Post-doctoral Research Fellow
Centre for Agricultural and Rural Sustainability

I thought I’d use this blog to promote another one: ‘Beneath Our Feet’, the official blog of the Global Soil Biodiversity Initiative (GSBI, If you are interested in biodiversity and how it relates to ecosystem services, you should have a look.

The GSBI was set up to promote global collaboration between scientists in order to inform the public, and environmental policy, of the immense importance of soil biodiversity and the ecosystem services it provides. This can be difficult to perceive because the soil is a ‘black box’ and the organisms within it are pretty inaccessible and not particularly charismatic (to most people…), but just as land-use change, climate change and other anthropogenic factors are affecting above-ground communities, so too are they having an impact on the below-ground organisms that our well-being depends upon.

Anyone who has sifted through soil samples will understand how difficult it is sort, let alone identify species within the masses of invertebrates that come out of them, but this is exactly what I have been trying to do for one particular group, the springtails, in collaboration with Dr Peter Shaw at the University of Roehampton. These photogenic (as invertebrates go)  insect relatives have a critical role in nutrient cycling and decomposition. As with many other soil organisms it can be tricky to identify springtails to species morphologically, especially when undescribed, invasive and/or cryptic species are present. Yet, understanding how community composition affects soil processes is important for investigating the impacts of e.g. changes in agricultural management practices. We have been using linked molecular and morphological data to try to get a grasp on exactly what species are found in the UK, summarised in our most recent post:

As we conclude in the post, we’ve still got a lot to do!

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