Talk on how on our planet is being pummelled by biodiversity loss and climate change continues at a rapid-fire pace. People are compelled to adapt and meet the challenges that arise. For instance, concerns about how we use energy and waste water, and how animals are increasingly at risk of losing their habitat are at the top of the headlines practically every day. But is anyone thinking about how one of Earth's most important resources is being affected by these changes? Soil, which is 'home' to around 25% of the Earth's species, is under threat. How are we going to protect it? The European Commission's Joint Research Centre (JRC) released an indicator-based map of potential threats to soil biodiversity at the 'Soil, Climate Change and Biodiversity - Where do we stand?' conference in Brussels on 23-24 September. This atlas - compiled this year for the first time - will give decision-makers the support they need to help protect this vital resource. Around 25% of the Earth's species is found in soil, which is the planet's second biggest carbon pool. EU experts say agriculture, water and the carbon cycle depend heavily on soil biodiversity. The JRC's 128-page atlas effectively pinpoints the areas heavily at risk of shrinking including in Belgium, northern France, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and some parts of the UK. Policymakers, researchers and educators are all likely to find the map an extremely useful resource. 'Soil is essential to the biodiversity which makes life on Earth possible and keeps our economies sustainable,' reads a joint statement from Commissioner for Research, Innovation and Science Máire Geoghegan-Quinn and Commissioner for Environment Janez Potocnik. 'Soil degradation threatens our access to food, clean air and water, as well as to many crucial raw materials. This atlas is a major European contribution to the UN's International Year of Biodiversity 2010. It will raise awareness about the need for the Soil Framework Directive the [European] Commission first proposed in 2006 and help prevent further soil degradation and repair the damage already done. Unless we tackle this problem soon and in a coordinated manner, it will cost a lot more to put it right.' The European Atlas of Soil Biodiversity encompasses the first-ever threat map for soil biodiversity covering the majority of EU Member States. Soil biodiversity is under threat from various factors selected and ranked during an expert evaluation organised by the JRC's Soil Biodiversity Working Group. A number of pressure factors were used to determine the potential threats included in this novel atlas, namely soil compaction, habitual disruption, intensive human exploitation, land use change, erosion, pollution and invasive species. It should be noted that the atlas does not present the actual level of soil biodiversity; rather it points to the potential risk of a decline in biodiversity. It indicates, for example, that the risk of soil diversity shrinking due to human-induced pressures is greater where population density is higher and/or agriculture activity greater. The atlas helps raise awareness of what goes on in 'life below ground', and how soil is instrumental in maintaining other ecosystems. Key contributions to the atlas came from various departments of the European Commission as well as partners from industry, academia and organisations like the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations.
Belgium, France, Luxembourg, United Kingdom