, Volume 3, Issue 1, pp 45-56

The soil fauna: the other last biotic frontier

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Different approaches to biodiversity yield global totals as small as 3 million or as large as 80 million species. Erwin's calculation and estimation leads to an estimate of ca 30 million species and relies on four assumptions of which one concerns the ratio between the number of canopy insects and those found elsewhere, especially in the soil. A short survey of the microarthropods living in coastal sand dunes and collected with a new flotation method yielded amazing results. In spite of the severity of the habitat (low organic matter content and extreme dryness), the density of microarthropods varied between 175 000 and 1 400 000 individuals per square metre, i.e., densities 3 to 10 times higher than densities usually observed in any other type of soil. A total of 31 species was recorded, most undescribed and smaller than 200 μm. The consequences of these findings on the estimation of the number of species are discussed. It is suggested that the soil, including the deepest horizons and the rhizosphere, might constitute a huge reservoir for biodiversity.