Challenges and opportunities for increasing the impact of soil biodiversity science on global sustainability
The majority of the humans don’t care about soil biodiversity. They care about having enough food and water, and maybe about limiting soil erosion, improving air and water quality, and preventing the loss of ecosystems and species they can see without a microscope. Even those who have heard about soil biodiversity are a little confused. They hear it’s good, but one of the simplest indicators is soil respiration, or soil carbon loss, which they understand is bad. The objective of this paper, and one of the goals of the symposium, is to “highlight ways to integrate research developments into sustainable policy and management practices of all global soils”.
The paper discusses three opportunities for increasing the application of soil biodiversity science to policy and management. (1) Clarify the message by focusing on what we do know. The answer to most questions soil ecologists ask is that “it depends”. But the answer to the question, “do humans need more than one species of soil organisms to survive”, is unequivocally, “yes”. (2) Refine the message by acknowledging that soil biota (like all other organisms) can have both positive and negative effects, and that soil biodiversity is not always the most important factor. There is a difference between acknowledging the limitations of the importance of one’s chosen field to particular challenges, and providing an unnecessarily complex response where soil biodiversity is, in fact, relevant. (3) Connect soil biodiversity to new and ongoing efforts promoting the importance of both soil and biodiversity. Playing second fiddle in a large orchestra can sometimes result in a larger audience than spending all of our time promoting our exclusive concerts. The paper will conclude with a brief discussion of strategies for engaging the governing bodies of international environmental agreements based on the author’s experience representing the US on science issues with the UNCCD.