Biodiversity and Conservation

, Volume 19, Issue 13, pp 3743–3756 | Cite as

Buried treasure: soil biodiversity and conservation

  • Sophie S. ParkerEmail author
Original Paper


Soils are incredibly biodiverse habitats, yet soil-dwelling organisms have received little attention within the field of conservation biology. Due to difficulties involved in studying soil biota, and to taxonomic biases in conservation research, the full extent of soil biodiversity is not well understood, and soil-dwelling organisms are rarely candidates for conservation. The biogeography of soil biota differs significantly from that of plants or animals aboveground, and the taxonomic and functional diversity of soil-dwellers allows them to have a multitude of ecological effects on aboveground organisms. Soil organisms exhibit levels of biodiversity several orders of magnitude greater than those found in their aboveground counterparts on a per-area basis. The biodiversity of soils underpins many crucial ecosystem services which support the plants and animals typically targeted by conservation efforts. Strategies detailed in this paper provide practitioners with the ability to address many of the challenges related to incorporating soils and soil organisms into conservation planning.


Bacteria California Ecosystem services Fungus Management Microbes Microbial diversity Planning Soil integrity Soil biological crust 



The author wishes to thank Kirk Klausmeyer for technical help in creating Figure 1, Noah Fierer, Lynn Lozier, Robin Cox, and Stacey Solie for review of early versions of the manuscript, and The Nature Conservancy for support during the writing process.


  1. Altieri M (1999) The ecological role of biodiversity in agroecosystems. Agric Ecosyst Environ 74:19–31CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Amundson R, Guo Y, Gong P (2003) Soil diversity and land use in the United States. Ecosystems 6:470–482CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Baas Becking L (1934) Geobiologie of inleiding tot de milieukunde. W.P. van Stockum and Zoon, The HagueGoogle Scholar
  4. Bainbridge S (2002) San Joaquin and adjacent Sierra foothills vernal pool geomorphic classification and conservation prioritization. California Department of Fish and Game, FresnoGoogle Scholar
  5. Bardgett R (2005) The biology of soil: a community and ecosystem approach. Oxford University Press, OxfordGoogle Scholar
  6. Beare M, Coleman D, Crossley D et al (1995) A hierarchical approach to evaluating the significance of soil biodiversity to biogeochemical cycling. Plant Soil 170:1–18CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Beijerinck M (1913) Oxydation des Manganocarbonates durch Bakterien und Schimmelpilze. Folia Microbiol (Delft) 2:123–134Google Scholar
  8. Bernard E (1992) Soil nematode biodiversity. Biol Fertil Soils 14:99–103CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Bever J, Schultz P, Pringle A et al (2001) Arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi: more diverse than meets the eye, and the ecological tale of why. Bioscience 51:923–931CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Bond W, Slingsby P (1984) Collapse of an ant-plant mutualism—the Argentine ant (Iridomyrmex humilis) and Myrmecochorous Proteaceae. Ecology 65:1031–1037CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Bowker M (2007) Biological soil crust rehabilitation in theory and practice: an underexploited opportunity. Restor Ecol 15:13–23CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Brussaard L (1998) Soil fauna, guilds, functional groups and ecosystem processes. Appl Soil Ecol 9:123–135CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Brussaard L, Behan-Pelletier V, Bignell D (1997) Biodiversity and ecosystem functioning in soil. Ambio 26:563–570Google Scholar
  14. Bryant J, Lamanna C, Morlon H et al (2008) Microbes on mountainsides: contrasting elevational patterns of bacterial and plant diversity. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 105:11505–11511CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  15. Canadell J, Jackson R, Ehleringer J et al (1996) Maximum rooting depth of vegetation types at the global scale. Oecologia 108:583–595CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Chan K, Shaw M, Cameron D et al (2006) Conservation planning for ecosystem services. PLoS Biol 4:2138–2152Google Scholar
  17. Clardy J (2005) Discovery of new compounds in nature. Proc Am Philos Soc 151:201–210Google Scholar
  18. Clark J, May R (2002) Taxonomic bias in conservation research. Science 297:191–192CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  19. Cole F, Medeiros A, Loope L et al (1992) Effects of the argentine ant on arthropod fauna of Hawaiian high-elevation shrubland. Ecology 73:1313–1322CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Cotterill F, Al-Rasheid K, Foissner W (2008) Conservation of protists: is it needed at all? Biodivers Conserv 17:427–443CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. de Wit R, Bouvier T (2006) ‘Everything is everywhere, but, the environment selects’; what did Baas Becking and Beijerinck really say? Environ Microbiol 8:755–758CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  22. Decaens T, Jimenez J, Gioia C et al (2006) The values of soil animals for conservation biology. Eur J Soil Biol 42:S23–S38CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Doran J, Parkin T et al (1994) Defining and assessing soil quality. In: Doran J et al (eds) Defining soil quality for a sustainable environment. Soil Science Society of America Special Publication no 35, Madison, WI, pp 3–21Google Scholar
  24. Drohan P, Farnham T (2006) Protecting life’s foundation: a proposal for recognizing rare and threatened soils. Soil Sci Soc Am J 70:2086–2096CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Dunn C, Stearns F, Guntenspergen G et al (1993) Ecological benefits of the conservation reserve program. Conserv Biol 7:132–139CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Dymond P, Scheu S, Parkinson D (1997) Density and distribution of Dendrobaena octaedra (Lumbricidae) in aspen and pine forests in the Canadian Rocky Mountains (Alberta). Soil Biol Biochem 29:265–273CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. European Soil Bureau Network (2005) Soil atlas of Europe. European Commission, Ispra, ItalyGoogle Scholar
  28. Evans R, Ehleringer J (1993) A break in the nitrogen-cycle in aridlands—evidence from delta-N-15 of soils. Oecologia 94:314–317CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Fierer N, Jackson R (2006) The diversity and biogeography of soil bacterial communities. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 103:626–631CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  30. Fierer N, Schimel J, Holden P (2003) Variations in microbial community composition through two soil depth profiles. Soil Biol Biochem 35:167–176CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Fierer N, Breitbart M, Nulton J et al (2007) Metagenomic and small-subunit rRNA analyses reveal the genetic diversity of bacteria, archaea, fungi, and viruses in soil. Appl Environ Microbiol 73:7059–7066CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  32. Foissner W (2008) Protist diversity and distribution: some basic considerations. Biodivers Conserv 17:235–242CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Hågvar S (1998) The relevance of the Rio-Convention on biodiversity to conserving the biodiversity of soils. Appl Soil Ecol 9:1–7CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Holland R (1978) The geographic and edaphic distribution of vernal pools in the Great Central Valley. California Native Plant Society, Sacramento, CaliforniaGoogle Scholar
  35. Human K, Gordon D (1996) Exploitation and interference competition between the invasive Argentine ant, Linepithema humile, and native ant species. Oecologia 105:405–412CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Ibanez J, De-Alba S, Lobo A et al (1998) Pedodiversity and global soil patterns at coarse scales. Geoderma 83:171–192CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. IGBP-DIS (1998) SoilData(V.0) a program for creating global soil-property databases. IGBP Global Soils Data Task, FranceGoogle Scholar
  38. Jenny H (1941) Factors of soil formation. A system of quantitative pedology. McGraw Hill Book Company, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  39. Kidron G, Yair A (1997) Rainfall-runoff relationship over encrusted dune surfaces, Nizzana, Western Negev, Israel. Earth Surf Proc Land 22:1169–1184CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Klironomos J (2002) Another form of bias in conservation research. Science 298:749–750CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  41. Lange O, Meyer A, Zellner H et al (1994) Photosynthesis and water relations of lichen soil crusts—field-measurements in the coastal fog zone of the Namib Desert. Funct Ecol 8:253–264CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Lavelle P (1984) The soil system in the humid tropics. Biol Int 9:2–15Google Scholar
  43. Levine J, Adler P, Yelenik S (2004) A meta-analysis of biotic resistance to exotic plant invasions. Ecol Lett 7:975–989CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Mills G, Hes L (1997) The complete book of southern African mammals. Struik Winchester, Cape TownGoogle Scholar
  45. Montgomery D (2007) Dirt: the erosion of civilizations. University of California Press, BerkeleyGoogle Scholar
  46. Myers N, Mittermeier R, Mittermeier C et al (2000) Biodiversity hotspots for conservation priorities. Nature 403:853–858CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  47. Pawar S (2003) Taxonomic chauvinism and the methodologically challenged. Bioscience 53:861–864CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Pimentel D, Sparks D (2000) Soil as an endangered ecosystem. Bioscience 50:947–950CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Rehakova K, Johansen J, Casamatta D et al (2007) Morphological and molecular characterization of selected desert soil cyanobacteria: three species new to science including Mojavia pulchra gen. et sp. nov. Phycologia 46:481–502CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Reponen T, Gazenko S, Grinshpun S et al (1998) Characteristics of airborne actinomycete spores. Appl Environ Microbiol 64:3807–3812PubMedGoogle Scholar
  51. Suarez A, Richmond J, Case T (2000) Prey selection in horned lizards following the invasion of Argentine ants in southern California. Ecol Appl 10:711–725CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Swift M, Bignell D (2001) Standard methods for assessment of soil biodiversity and land use practice. International Centre for Research in Agroforestry, Bogor, IndonesiaGoogle Scholar
  53. Swift M, Heal O, Anderson J (1979) Decomposition in terrestrial ecosystems. University of California Press, Berkeley, CAGoogle Scholar
  54. Swift M, Bignell D, Moreira F et al (2008) The inventory of soil biological diversity: concepts and general guidelines. In: Moreira F, Huising E, Bignell D (eds) A handbook of tropical soil biology: sampling and characterization of below-ground biodiversity. Earthscan, LondonGoogle Scholar
  55. TAIC and EDAW (2005) Ramona vernal pool conservation study. TAIC, San DiegoGoogle Scholar
  56. Thomas N, Cole R (1996) The risk of disease and threats to the wild population. Endanger Species Update 13:24–28Google Scholar
  57. TNC (2001) Ecoregion based conservation in the Mojave Desert. The Nature Conservancy, Las VegasGoogle Scholar
  58. Tsutsui N, Suarez A, Holway D et al (2001) Relationships among native and introduced populations of the Argentine ant (Linepithema humile) and the source of introduced populations. Mol Ecol 10:2151–2161CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  59. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (1997) San Bernardino Mountains carbonate plants draft recovery plan. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Portland, ORGoogle Scholar
  60. Usher M, Davis P, Harris J et al (1979) A profusion of species? Approaches towards understanding the dynamics of the populations of microarthropods in decomposer communities. In: Anderson R, Turner B, Taylor L (eds) Population dynamics. Blackwell Scientific Publications, OxfordGoogle Scholar
  61. van der Heijden M, Bardgett R, van Straalen N (2008) The unseen majority: soil microbes as drivers of plant diversity and productivity in terrestrial ecosystems. Ecol Lett 11:296–310CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  62. van der Putten W, Klironomos J, Wardle D (2007) Microbial ecology of biological invasions. ISME J 1:28–37CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  63. Wagener S, Oswood M, Schimel J (1998) Rivers and soils: parallels in carbon and nutrient processing. Bioscience 48:104–108CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  64. Wall D (2004) Sustaining biodiversity and ecosystem services in soils and sediments. SCOPE Series. Island Press, Washington, DCGoogle Scholar
  65. Whitman W, Coleman D, Wiebe W (1998) Prokaryotes: the unseen majority. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 95:6578–6583CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  66. Woese C, Kandler O, Wheelis M (1990) Towards a natural system of organisms: proposal for the domains Archaea, Bacteria, and Eucarya. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 87:4576–4579CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  67. Wohl D, Arora S, Gladstone J (2004) Functional redundancy supports biodiversity and ecosystem function in a closed and constant environment. Ecology 85:1534–1540CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  68. Wohlfahrt G, Fenstermaker L, Arnone J (2008) Large annual net ecosystem CO2 uptake of a Mojave Desert ecosystem. Glob Change Biol 14:1475–1487CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  69. Wolfe B, Klironomos J (2005) Breaking new ground: soil communities and exotic plant invasion. Bioscience 55:477–487CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  70. Wolters V (2001) Biodiversity of soil animals and its function. Eur J Soil Biol 37:221–227CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  71. World Wildlife Fund (2006) WildFinder: online database of species distributions. Cited Jan 2006
  72. Yachi S, Loreau M (1999) Biodiversity and ecosystem productivity in a fluctuating environment: the insurance hypothesis. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 96:1463–1468CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.The Nature ConservancyLos AngelesUSA

Personalised recommendations