Soils regulate and mitigate climate
The interaction of soil science and ecology can be traced back to the origins of soil science as an independent discipline within the natural sciences. Vasili Dokuchaev, the founder of modern soil science, identified five soil forming factors: parent material, climate, organisms, topography, and time. While plant and animal activity became an integral component in the study of soil formation, the focus of other aspects of the new science of soil largely lost this ecological perspective. Instead much of soil science was focused on managed ecosystems, in particular, agricultural production. This perspective has recently been reversed as increasing emphasis is being placed on integration of the sub-disciplines of soil science and in particular greater acknowledgement of the key role played by biological processes. Heightened interest in global climate change effects is an important driver of this shift in perspective. It has become clear to many that the interaction of climate and organisms over time is a key relationship in determining how soils will respond to climate change.
Soils can be managed to mitigate climate change effects by improving their biophysical function to become more resilient to long-term trends and short-term extremes in temperature and precipitation. Practices that increase soil organic matter content are critical as they not only sequester carbon but the increase in soil organic matter also improves soil moisture and thermal regimes. There is a pressing need to address the improvement of soil quality/health. Global soil assessments have documented the degradation of the world’s soil resources through erosion, desertification, deforestation, pollution, salinity, loss of organic matter, and nutrient depletion. The scale and extent of ongoing soil degradation limits the climate change mitigation potential of many soils. A fundamental shift in policy and practice away from the current model of sanctioned levels of degradation to one of sustained soil improvement is desperately needed to meet challenging food security goals under the additional stress of climate change.