Soil Biodiversity: Why Should We Care?

You may have heard overwhelming facts about teaspoons of soil containing hundreds of metres of fungal networks, and thousands of different species numbering into the millions. But why is this important?

As we shift away from an industrial and fertiliser dependent farming model, we are starting to understand more about the importance of biodiversity in our soils, the function that each species group performs, and how important it is to regenerate the extent of our farmland which is now severely degraded (thirty percent of it, to be exact). 

A lot is known about the poster boys of soil, earthworms, and how they aerate and nutrify soil. But on a smaller scale, incredible little creatures like springtails will shred up organic matter before microbes like bacteria and fungi step in to break it down into plant-available nutrients. There is space for everyone; larger organisms live in pore spaces or burrows, while some microscopic animals can live fully aquatic lives in the water film attached to soil particles!

Aside from their living functions, the millions of animals in the soil can even be viewed as a stockpile of nutrients that would otherwise be leached away. Through their season-dependent cycle of life and death, they release these nutrients into the soil at key moments when the ecosystem needs it most.

These are just a few examples of why a healthy soil depends hugely on all the millions of creatures it supports. On a regenerative scale, however, healthy soils are viewed as the foundation of rebuilding the systems we have lost – be they natural grasslands and forests, or integrated food production systems, like food forests and grazing lands. 

On a home level, the healthier your soil, the more productive your veggies are and the more resilient they are to ‘pests’ and disease. In fact, spending time getting dirty in healthy soil is very good for us two-leggeds too. Our foraging and farming ancestors lived deep in the soil, but we have become a sterilised society of pedantic sanitisers, no longer bathing in that wonderful fungal and bacterial richness. Research is showing that soil microbiology and gut microbiology may well have evolved together, and that human contact with soil has huge impacts for everything from immunity to mood and mental health

Think of your soil as a home. The more attractive you make it, the more species of all sizes and functions will move in, the healthier your soil will be, the more benefits you and everything else will get from it. If you want to know where to start, have a look at the list above, go out there and get dirty!

Further reading:

Bill Mollison’s Permaculture Handbook Chapter 8

Encyclopaedia of the Environment


Tags: soil health, soil biodiversity, human health