Protecting soil biodiversity with better land use
Widespread soil degradation in the EU has major implications for soil fertility; it affects agricultural production systems and the availability of fundamental ecosystem services. The latter include the provision of food, feed, clean water and carbon storage, as well as the control of pests and diseases. SOILSERVICE's data collection activities and analyses of various effects and drivers of intensified land use returned much valuable information on topics central to the project. The team also analysed how soils can be better managed with a view to mitigating climate change and reducing nutrient and chemical inputs. Improved knowledge and advances in these areas also promise to improve the incomes of European farmers in the long term. By combining production, land use, soil biodiversity and sustainability in socioeconomic models, SOILSERVICE was able to link ecosystem services to farmers' economic decision-making. This is important — the intensification of agriculture has reduced the abundance and biomass of most groups of soil organisms across Europe. This and other relevant findings, arrived at through interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary approaches, offer a base for guiding policy decisions related to reform of the Common Agricultural Policy as well as environmental policy. Further support in this direction, as well as for decision-making regarding sustainable farming and bioenergy production in Europe, included the development of various valuation tools. SOILSERVICE partners developed two toolboxes: one for the quantification of ecosystem services and how they are related to soil biodiversity, and one for valuing soil ecosystem services. These toolboxes can be used to support decision-making on sustainable farming in Europe. Project findings have importance for the management of agricultural farming systems and land use trends in the EU. These and other factors (such as the effects of climate change and extreme weather events) constitute a priority for conserving soil ecosystem services and the sustainability of food and bioenergy production.