Global soil biodiversity: A new frontier in ecology
Soil biodiversity is of critical importance to ecosystem functioning and above-ground productivity, including decomposition of organic matter, nutrient cycling, cleansing of water and regulation of pests. Soil biotic communities, from microbes to soil animals, respond to physical, chemical and biological changes in their environment making them susceptible to anthropogenic pressures. Soil ecologists are challenged with studying the vast array of soil life, from the tiniest microbes to larger invertebrates such as earthworms. In recent years, great advances have been made in the methods and analytical capabilities used to measure multiple trophic levels of soil organisms and their role in various ecosystem functions. The use of DNA barcoding and high-throughput sequencing, combined with measurements of ecological function, has greatly increased the amount of information collected to study these complex relationships. However, despite the insights from decades of research, we lack a comprehensive understanding of soil biodiversity and its functions on a global-scale, and predictions on how it will respond to global change. From fine-scale analysis up to regional, national or ecosystem there is an urgent need to collect and synthesize data on a global scale and disseminate information to relevant groups.
With 2015 designated as the International Year of Soil and the momentum of the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity, now is the time to bring soil biodiversity to the forefront. The Global Soil Biodiversity Initiative (GSBI, http://globalsoilbiodiversity.org ) is promoting the exchange of knowledge and ideas between scientists, policy makers, land managers and other end-users. In addition, there is an increased interest in sustainable food production, with local food movements and urban gardening presenting the opportunity to emphasize the importance of urban soil biodiversity to the public. The GSBI aims to demonstrate the significance of soil biodiversity for the maintenance of all terrestrial ecosystems.