Joint Research Centre - European Commission

The European Commission's in-house science service
European Commission

Spiral of soil minerals

European areas where soil biodiversity is under pressure have been identified© A. Kontou

Mapping the potential threats to EU soil biodiversity


A first step has been taken in identifying areas in Europe where soil biodiversity is most under pressure. A JRC co-authored article states that in 56% of EU territory there is a varying degree of potential threats, with intense land exploitation estimated as the main pressure on soil biodiversity.

Life within the soil is vital for ecosystem services, but the current levels of below-ground biodiversity are poorly known. While it is widely recognised that many above-ground species are under threat of extinction, no benchmark for below-ground soil communities exists with which to measure the possible future losses of biodiversity.

The article's potential threat calculations are based on the soil biodiversity pressure index, using data from the European Soil Data Centre (ESDAC) and other European databases. They show that 1% is exposed to extremely high, 4% to very high and 9% to high threats, with agricultural intensity (based on nitrogen load) the most significant menace, followed by organic carbon losses, invasive species, compaction, erosion and contamination. Due the combined effect of high intensity agriculture, many invasive species and an increased risk of organic carbon loss, the potential pressures were found to be particularly high in the UK and central Europe.