Monday, August 3, 2009 - 2:00 PM

SYMP 1-2: Sustaining soil biodiversity and ecosystem services in agriculture

Diana H. Wall, Colorado State University

Background/Question/Methods Many large-scale global issues, such as desertification, climate change and loss of biodiversity are policy issues that are now converging on soils, soil biodiversity and sustainable agriculture. Legislators and policy makers require relevant information from the research community in a timely manner if they are to act effectively. This information is needed as producers and land managers are pressed to meet the growing demands of food, fuel, fiber and at the same time sustain environmental, social and economic services. Total soil biodiversity includes bacteria, fungi, and multiple phyla of soil animals that together interact to provide numerous ecosystem services, e.g. wildfood for aboveground animals, soil fertility, biocontrol of pathogenic organisms, control of erosion, and water purification. Dead soils do not produce these ecosystem services, and thus there is an impetus for scientists evaluating the benefits and consequences of agricultural management techniques to include the contribution of soil biodiversity in sustaining ecosystem services. For example, stabilizing climate change by sequestering soil carbon has resulted in development of management options across agricultural landscapes. These options assume maintenance of soil biodiversity as a benefit, but actually quantifying soil biodiversity and a range of ecosystem services could contribute additional assets that could be examined over the long term. Results/Conclusions Given the urgency of putting scientific information about agriculture and soils into the hands of policy makers, there must be a greater emphasis on integrating the many disciplines sustaining agriculture, like hydrology, soil science, agronomy and invertebrate zoology, into a comprehensive system assessment. Setting priorities to provide knowledge on desertification to policy makers and to land owners in areas threatened with desertification, for example, must involve evaluation and synthesis of data and linkages across soils, cropping systems and soil biodiversity both regionally and globally. Additionally, this might contribute results on soil stabilization, impacts of climate change and conservation of key soil species that can add value to many international treaties. The solutions to unraveling the interactions between soil biodiversity and ecosystem services with greater precision now exist, and with new technologies we can evaluate feedbacks between environmental factors and soil communities across spatial scales. The challenge then becomes to produce effective models for quantifying soil biodiversity and the ecosystem services they mediate with sustainable agricultural models to better forecast the multiple interactions and potential impacts of anthropogenic change.