Diversity of soil types can be an indicator of aboveground biodiversity

Threats to vulnerable and endangered species are well recognized. As humans continue to move into ecosystems that are home to a variety of plants and animals, scientists and conservationists look for ways to better understand and measure biodiversity and the impacts people have upon it. It turns out that information about aboveground diversity may come from an unexpected place – the ground underneath the plants and animals.

FAO world soil map

A new study, published in Vadose Zone Journal, found that the number of soil types in an area (called the “pedodiversity”) and the biodiversity of that area – the number of species of vascular plants, amphibians, reptiles, birds, and mammals – are strongly correlated on a global scale. Additionally, the findings show that pedodiversity could be used as an indicator of biodiversity, which can often be difficult to measure.

In considering the link between the two diversities, the authors, Juan José Ibáñez and Enrico Feoli, note that pedodiversity can be seen as a measure of environmental heterogeneity. Therefore, their study suggests that the biodiversity of an area depends on the extent of that area as well as its environmental heterogeneity and the variety of habitats available for plants and animals.

The authors hope that the study will raise interest in the relationship between pedodiversity and biodiversity and motivate other researchers to analyze the connection. They also propose a possible improvement in future studies. While the current classification from the Food and Agricultural Organization considers only the first one or two meters of soil, Ibáñez and Feoli suggest that a system taking into account deeper layers may provide a more robust indicator of biodiversity around the world.

View the abstract at: http://dx.doi.org/doi:10.2136/vzj2012.0186

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