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Soil biology

Related subjects: Agriculture; Environment

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Soil biology is the study of microbial and faunal activity and ecology in soil. These organisms include earthworms, nematodes, protozoa, fungi and bacteria. Soil biology plays a vital role in determining many soil characteristics yet, being a relatively new science, much remains unknown about soil biology and about how the nature of soil is affected.


The soil is home to a large proportion of the world's genetic diversity. The linkages between soil organisms and soil functions are observed to be incredibly complex. The interconnectedness and complexity of this soil ‘food web’ means any appraisal of soil function must necessarily take into account interactions with the living communities that exist within the soil. We know that soil organisms break down organic matter, making nutrients available for uptake by plants and other organisms. The nutrients stored in the bodies of soil organisms prevent nutrient loss by leaching. Microbial exudates act to maintain soil structure, and earthworms are important in bioturbation. However, we find that we don't understand critical aspects about how these populations function and interact. The discovery of glomalin in 1995 indicates that we lack the knowledge to correctly answer some of the most basic questions about the biogeochemical cycle in soils. We have much work ahead to gain a better understanding of how soil biological components affect us and the planet they share with us.


Soil biology involves work in the following areas:

  • Modelling of biological processes and population dynamics.
  • Soil biology, physics and chemistry: occurrence of physicochemical parameters and surface properties on biological processes and population behaviour.
  • Population biology and molecular ecology: methodological development and contribution to study microbial and faunal populations; diversity and population dynamics; genetic transfers, influence of environmental factors.
  • Community ecology and functioning processes: interactions between organisms and mineral or organic compounds; involvement of such interactions in soil pathogenicity; transformation of mineral and organic compounds, cycling of elements; soil structuration

Complementary disciplinary approaches are necessarily utilized which involve molecular biology, genetics, ecophysiology, biogeography, ecology, soil processes, organic matter, nutrient dynamics and landscape ecology.

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