Soil organisms: The underfoot universe


Earthworm cast along a transect (© Thünen-Institut/Quentin Schorpp)

How soil organisms regenerate to create a vast diversity, how they interact among each other and with agricultural management and how our research benefits and supports the maintenance of this microcosm of animals, bacteria, fungi and archaea.

Field experiment with soil fauna in the mesocosm (© Thünen-Institut/Friederike Wolfarth)

Soil fertility depends on the complex interaction between many organisms of different sizes and different life traits. One gram of arable soil may be inhabited by about 10 billion bacterial cells and 1 billion archaea -- single-cell organisms which are quite similar to bacteria. Fungi are also present, reaching a biomass of at least the sum of bacteria and archaea biomass

Furthermore, soil is a habitat for a vast number of soil animals like earthworms, collembolans and nematodes. Their interaction within a broad spectrum of scales in time and space controls the environmental conditions of plant growth: soil fertility as a joint service. The more diverse communities are, the more resilient they are against environmental impact. Soil organisms may be used as indicators for environmental impact. Scientists study soil fauna and microorganisms, their interaction and the anthropogenic impact to gain insight into the quality of soils



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