Soil biodiversity

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What is biodiversity? Biodiversity has different meanings depending on the situation being discussed and the target audience. For example, the Oxford English Dictionary defines biodiversity as being 'The variety of plant and animal life in the world or in a particular habitat'. This is definition is clearly sufficient for non-specialists. However, when looking more specifically at biodiversity, it becomes evident that thought needs to be given to other groups such as fungi, bacteria and archea. As soil is such as diverse system when considered biologically (as well as physically or chemically) it is necessary to include all taxonomic groups. Therefore, throughout this booklet, when reference to 'Soil biodiversity' it will be in reference to the variety of all living organisms found within the soil system.

The Soil system is dynamic, highly heterogeneous and extremely complex. Soil itself consists of a mineral portion containing mainly silica and a mixture of trace metals, and and organic compounds, as well as water and vast array of different organisms. Soil can exist as a variety of texture; with the texture being a product of changes in the relative proportions of sand, silt and clay. It can contain areas of relative dryness, and includes micropores which are almost always water filled apart from in times of extreme drought. The proportion and type of organic matter varies both with depth, and spatially.

This high level of heteroheneity means that soil contains an extremely large number of ecological niches which have given rise to a staggering array of biodeliversity. Using a taxonomic approach to measure biodiversity, it is often said that more than half the world's estimated 10 million species of plant, animal and insects live in the tropical rainforests. However, when this approach is applied to the soil, the level of diversity is often quoted as being in the range of hundreds of thousands of possibly millions of species living in just 1 handful of soil!

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