It has been determined which environment on Earth supports the greatest number of species, and it isn’t the seas, the rain forests, or the swamps. The soils under our feet are home to the majority of life on Earth, at least in part.
According to recent research by ecologist Mark Anthony and colleagues, soil is likely the home to 59 percent of all life, including everything from microorganisms to mammals, making it the ecosystem with the greatest diversity of species.
The majority of the land on Earth is covered in soil, which is composed of minerals, liquids, trapped gases, and organic materials.
However, despite its significance, scientists still know very little about the living surface of the Earth.
According to Anthony from Agroscope, a Swiss agricultural research organization, “organisms in soil play an outweighed impact on the balance of our planet,” who spoke with Phoebe Weston of the Guardian.
Their biodiversity is important because soil life influences human health, global food security, and feedback from climate change.
As much as 88 percent of bacteria, 85 percent of plants, and 90 percent of fungus eke out an existence beneath this thin, fragile layer, according to Anthony and team’s review of prior material. However, only around 4% of the roughly 6,500 species of mammals have the guts to build a house in the mud.
Given our limited understanding of soil ecosystems, the overall biodiversity in Earth’s soils, which the researchers estimate to be 59 percent (give or take 15 percent), is probably an underestimate.
Estimates of bacteria-invading viruses, which rule the soil with such amazing diversity that they leave all other life in the dust, aren’t even included in this.
The majority of soil-dependent organisms are little relatives of earthworms called Enchytraeidae (98.6%). The majority forage for bacteria, fungus, and organic debris in the top 5 cm of soil. Nevertheless, these animals are not well known despite their frequency and other than their employment as bait.
Even little is known about the deeper soils.
According to Anthony and team, “often neglected deep soils… harbor many unique lineages compared to surface soil.”
Even though the scientists only took into account the groupings of life with the greatest number of species, the current estimate of biodiversity is twice as large as the one that was previously proposed.
Many of Earth’s life-sustaining mechanisms, from carbon sequestration to water delivery, are powered by this unexpectedly raucous ecosystem. In addition to filtering pollutants, soils help grow 95% of our food.
However, soils are changing due to pollution, fire, and erosion all across the planet. According to a recent study, the soils in Europe are harmful in about 65 percent of cases.
Additionally, the way we’ve changed the land above the soils has probably changed the biological makeup of many soils, which has a negative impact on how the soils operate.
In their native Australian ecosystem, echidnas, for instance, turn over 7 tonnes of soil annually, but urbanization and agriculture have driven them out of many places, slowing this crucial cycling. As a result, the soil’s ability to store carbon has decreased and its microbial composition has changed.
Another huge unknown is the degree of soil biological deterioration.
Anthony said to Scientific American reporter Meghan Bartels, “I’m thinking of this a lot like a census.”
We actually aren’t doing that right now, so perhaps the outcomes of this will help us focus more emphasis on soil conservation and restoration.
This research was published in PNAS.