Soil, an essential natural resource often not recognised

Soils provide several services to humans (e.g. food, feed, carbon storage, decomposing waste) yet their significance is rarely recognised. A recent study in Vadose Zone Journal points at this problem and suggests a framework that could help integrating soils in policy decisions.

The researchers focus on applying a natural capital and ecosystem services approach to soils. They state that “this approach provides links and synergies between soil science and other disciplines such as ecology, hydrology, and economics, recognizing the importance of soils alongside other natural resources in sustaining the functioning of the Earth system”.

The authors call for active involvement of fellow soil scientists and developed four recommendations to them to ensure that soil issues are channelled into policy decisions in the future. The recommendations are:

1) creating the appropriate frameworks to determine the natural capital and intermediate and final goods and services supplied by soils that benefit human well-being, maintain the Earth’s life support systems, and promote biodiversity;
2) identifying appropriate measurement and monitoring programs with agreed metrics to develop the evidence base on the “state and change” of soil natural capital and the ecosystem services that flow from it;
3) developing the means to value soils, which can feed into the frameworks being developed in other disciplines, and where possible develop synergy with existing national accounting frameworks such as GDP and state-of-the-environment reporting; and
4) engaging in the development of decision-support tools that incorporate “soil change” and that will enable the most informed comparison of trade-offs in the decision-making process, cognizant of the enormous practical challenges this implies.

Robinson, D.A., Hockley, N., Dominati, E. et al. (2011) Natural Capital, Ecosystem Services, and Soil Change: Why Soil Science Must Embrace an Ecosystems Approach. Vadose Zone Journal. 11(1). DOI:10.2136/vzj2011.0051.