A study led by the Institute of Natural Resources and Agrobiology (IRNAS-CSIC), of the Higher Council for Scientific Research (CSIC), publishes the first global estimate of hot spots for soil nature conservation.
Researchers have identified those that should have the highest priority for soil nature conservation; these are found in the tropics, northern Europe and America, and Asia.
The study, which is published in the journal Nature, also concludes that most of the soils that support the highest levels of biodiversity and ecosystem services do not have an adequate level of protection worldwide.
In order to assess global hotspots for the conservation of soil ecological values, an international team of scientists has included more than 10,000 observations of biodiversity (invertebrates, fungi, protists, bacteria and archaea) and indicators of ecosystem services in 615 soil samples from all continents.
Soil conservation peak
Scientists have combined these observations to assess three ecological dimensions of soil: species richness, the uniqueness of these species in each region, and the ecosystem services they provide (such as regulation of the water cycle or carbon storage).
The data obtained reveal that the different facets of soil conservation peak in different places on the planet, making it difficult to protect them all simultaneously. Temperate ecosystems, for example, show higher local soil biodiversity (soil species richness), while cooler ecosystems are identified as hotspots for ecosystem services. For their part, tropical and arid ecosystems are home to the most unique communities of soil organisms.
The study analyzed more than 10,000 observations of biodiversity (invertebrates, fungi, protists, bacteria and archaea) and indicators of ecosystem services in 615 soil samples from all continents. The tropics, North America, Northern Europe, and Asia are the regions where ecosystem hotspots have been identified that should have the highest priority for soil nature conservation.
The study suggests that “we are not efficiently protecting soil conservation ‘hotspots’ on a global scale; When protected areas are designed, it is necessary to explicitly consider the soils, their biodiversity and the services they provide us so that we protect their carbon sequestration capacity”.
“The ecological values of the land are often overlooked in nature conservation policies and management decisions. This study shows where efforts to protect them are most necessary”, points out Manuel Delgado Baquerizo, leader of the IRNAS-CSIC Biodiversity and Ecosystem Functioning Laboratory.
“The soil is a resource that is still little recognized that houses an immense biodiversity and that includes key elements for the basic cycles for sustaining life,” says Ana Rey, from the National Museum of Natural Sciences (MNCN-CSIC).
“For this reason, to preserve its ecosystem services, it is necessary to preserve the diversity of each type of soil, especially in the areas most vulnerable to foreseeable environmental changes,” adds Asunción de los Ríos, a scientist at the MNCN-CSIC. For his part, José Luis Moreno, from the Segura Center for Edaphology and Applied Biology (CEBAS-CSIC), points out: The protection of this diversity is essential to maintain functions of vital importance to our existence, such as carbon sequestration, contaminant degradation, etc.
Soils vulnerable to climate change
“Soils are also vulnerable to climate change and the uses that are given to them. In order to better conserve the ecological values of the soil, we must know where its protection is most necessary”, comments César Plaza, a CSIC researcher at the Institute of Agricultural Sciences (ICA-CSIC). “For plants and animals that live on the surface, biodiversity hotspots were identified decades ago. However, until now an evaluation of this type had not been done nor could it be done to obtain the ecological values of the soil”, points out Felipe Bastida, from CEBAS-CSIC.
The contrasting spatial patterns for the three ecological soil dimensions demonstrate how complex it is to protect them all at once. “When it comes to protecting soils, we should probably not focus on locally maximizing all the ecological dimensions of the soil at the same time, but rather on integrated approaches that highlight local potential”, highlights Carlos Guerra, lead author of the study and researcher at the University German.
The tropics, North America, Northern Europe, and Asia are the regions where ecosystem hotspots have been identified that should have the highest priority for soil nature conservation.
The researchers compared these priority hotspots with areas that are already protected and found that half of them are not currently under any form of nature conservation.
“Protected areas have been designed to protect plants, birds or mammals. However, we are not sure that these protected areas are efficient in conserving the biodiversity and ecosystem services of our soils. Our study suggests that we are not efficiently protecting soil conservation hotspots on a global scale. When protected areas are designed, it is necessary to explicitly consider the soils, their biodiversity and the services they provide us so that we protect their capacity to sequester carbon and their biodiversity”, says Manuel Delgado-Baquerizo.
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