Study Reveals Soil as Earth’s Premier Biodiversity Hotspot

A groundbreaking study has unveiled a stunning revelation: more than half of all species on Earth inhabit the soil, making it the most biodiverse habitat on our planet. This revelation significantly surpasses previous estimates from 2006, which suggested that 25% of life had a soil-based foundation.

Published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the research marks a turning point in our understanding of biodiversity. Soil, often overlooked in discussions of nature protection due to its enigmatic complexity, is now recognized as the epicenter of life’s rich diversity.

Discovering the Richness Beneath Our Feet

The study, based on a review of existing literature, showcases the extraordinary wealth of life hidden beneath the Earth’s surface. It found that soil is home to a staggering 90% of fungi, 85% of plants, and over 50% of bacteria. Remarkably, the category least associated with soil is mammals, constituting only 3% of the habitat’s inhabitants.

Dr. Mark Anthony, the lead researcher and ecologist at the Swiss Federal Research Institute for Forest, Snow and Landscape Research, states that the research emerged from a lack of evidence concerning the most species-rich habitat. “In my research circle, many suspected it should be soil but there was no evidence,” he shares.

Soil’s Influence Extends Beyond Biodiversity

The importance of soil life extends far beyond its role as a biodiversity hotspot. Soil plays a pivotal role in climate change feedback, global food security, and human health. Despite this, soil has often been neglected in broader conversations about ecological preservation due to limited knowledge about its intricate dynamics.

The Intricacies of Soil Biodiversity

The study estimated that there are around 100 billion species on Earth, with soil serving as the dwelling place for approximately 59% of them. Researchers defined a species as associated with soil if it inhabited, lived on, or completed part of its lifecycle within this habitat. However, due to the limited understanding of soil, the actual figures could be even higher.

Challenges and Potential Solutions

The estimate comes with an error range of 15%, emphasizing the complexity of estimating soil biodiversity accurately. The study calls for advocating for soil life in the face of biodiversity and climate crises, as one-third of the planet’s land is severely degraded, and vast amounts of fertile soil are lost annually.

Restoring soil biodiversity necessitates adopting less intensive agricultural practices, stricter regulation of non-native invasive species, and increased habitat conservation. Innovations like soil transplantations offer the potential to rejuvenate microscopic life forms in soil, contributing to its overall health and balance.

In conclusion, the study’s findings position soil as an irreplaceable hub of biodiversity, urging global efforts to protect and restore this vital ecosystem for the benefit of the environment, agriculture, and human well-being.

By Impact Lab