EU Science Hub

Above- and belowground biodiversity mismatches

Soil biodiversity is essential for healthy soils and the invaluable ecosystem services they provide.
Apr 18 2019

A recent Conservation Nature article by global experts, including JRC scientists Luca Montanarella and Alberto Orgiazzi, finds a significant mismatch in global patterns of overlap between aboveground and soil biodiversity.

Biodiversity - the variety of life on the planet - has been in the global spotlight lately, with suggestions of a sixth mass extinction caused by human activities. However, although up to one quarter of terrestrial biodiversity lives in soil, the main focus of attention has mainly been on aboveground biodiversity.

Soil biodiversity is vital to human well-being. Healthy soils ensure global food security, filter pollution and provide clean water, store carbon, buffer against floods, provide medicines, act as seed banks of plant species, underpin iconic landscapes and preserve historical artefacts.

To understand the extent to which areas of abundant and scarce biodiversity aboveground and in the soil coincide, this article examines global patterns of overlap between aboveground and soil biodiversity.

Global distribution of the overlap between aboveground and soil biodiversity

By mapping indices of aboveground (mammals, birds, amphibians, vascular plants) and soil (bacteria, fungi, macrofauna) biodiversity, the article finds that there is a mismatch between the two in 27% of the Earth's terrestrial surface.

The temperate broadleaf and mixed forests biome was found to show high aboveground biodiversity but low soil biodiversity, while the soils of the boreal and tundra regions in Canada and Siberia tend to be rich in species but have little aboveground biodiversity.

The mismatches suggest that conserving aboveground biodiversity will not be sufficient to protect soil biodiversity.

Policy recommendations

Soil biodiversity should be included in environmental policy agendas and conservation actions by

(1) adapting management practices to sustain soil biodiversity and

(2) considering soil biodiversity when designing protected areas.

Filling data gaps in our knowledge of global distribution of soil life will help develop specific actions to protect soil biodiversity - a precious natural capital that needs to be managed sustainably for the benefit of future generations.

Further information