“Land is not merely soil, it is a fountain of energy flowing through a circuit of soils, plants and animals.”

– Aldo Leopold, Author, philosopher, scientist, and conservationist

Did you know that there are more living organisms in a spoonful of soil than people on Earth?

Soil is generally famous as the part of land composed of organic and inorganic components of the Earth’s surface that supports the sustenance of life. Soil harbors a wide array of life ranging from simple microorganisms to large moving mammals to massive trees that form forest ecosystems. In short, the soil system, often taken for granted, is an essential part of the Earth System.

The figure of the organisms it supports is just too huge. It provides a home for minute creatures to live in, in symbiotic association with the soil and it makes the substrate for larger organisms to live on. Soil provides a sustainable environment for 8 billion people to call ‘Home’ after all. Taking all these into account, the question yet remains rhetorical. 

“Does the soil get the credit it deserves?”    

Soil types
Figure 01: Soil types

Even though a dime a dozen talking has been done in the modern world regarding soil conservation, pollution, and awareness, the fact whether the steps and measures that have been taken are enough or not to prevent a future dilemma remains yet a question that requires immediate attention of relevant authorities. Besides, can humanity let the weight of the potential dangers into the hands of the authorities?    

Aim of World Soil Day

World Soil Day aims to draw global attention and bring the necessity of immediate action to light as soil keeps on deteriorating each day with the influence of all anthropogenic activities. People celebrate this day internationally with the intention of raising awareness about soil degradation which has become a gigantic issue that causes deleterious effects on biodiversity, leading to erosion, and finally the fertility of soil declines due to loss of organic matter. This condition is worsened by industrialization and poor agricultural practices including soil management. Consequently, an entire ecosystem is threatened. Agricultural production and food security are also affected. 

Thus, it is high time to take the initial step towards the conservation of our own substratum, for our future generations to proudly call “Home”. Spreading mere awareness will never be enough. The world should get together in action, and make the importance of soil known to the hearts of people other than the science community who are already concerned.

Process of soil formation
Figure 02: Pedogenesis – Process of soil formation

Origins of Soil 

The formation of soil is associated with the physical, chemical, and biological interactions of rock surfaces. Along with the passing of time when rocks undergo weathering, a process where the surfaces of rock are peeled off due to the above-mentioned factors, thus they contribute to form what we now refer to as soil. This formation process of soil takes millions and millions of years. 

Soil horizons
Figure 03: Soil horizons

Soil as a Circuit for Life

Healthy soil is capable of being a habitat for many microorganisms. One such interesting phenomenon that happens in the soil without much notice from humans is the Wood Wide Web. Wood Wide Web is a network of connections between millions of microorganisms with plant roots in the soil. It helps plants to regulate the uptake of nutrients, exchange gases, and communicate with each other. Thereby it offers a win-win situation for all parties.

Mycorrhizal fungi are those that grow in close association with roots in a symbiotic or pathogenic relationship; the majority of which are symbiotes. Fungal filaments make nitrogen, phosphorous, water, and other nutrients available for plant roots. In turn, they obtain carbon-rich sugars from plants for survival and optimum functioning. The fungal associations also help deliver substances from one tree to another neighboring tree and thereby make up an efficient network full of life and connect life in a fantabulous way! 

Ever wondered what happens when plants die? Their asset doesn’t go away when plants die. Their nutrient resource becomes a boon to nearby plants through the wood wide web. 

A mycorrhizae association
Figure 04: A mycorrhizae association

The Human Connection 

The bond between humans and soil or the earth drives back 12,000 years into the past of the Neolithic era when humans moved from the hunter-gatherer life to a farming lifestyle. And through ages humans have engaged in agriculture and improved upon it with the incorporation of technology. The strength of this connection between man and earth can be further seen in cultural aspects where the earth or the land beneath our feet is revered as a deity. Many religions of Asian origin offer insight into a deeper connection to the earth during an individual’s lifetime.

Seed germination
Figure 05: Seed germination

However human practices have led to the misuse and overexploitation of soil resources as the major issues in soil conservation include excessive agricultural practices and the loss of nutrients in the soil. These issues will directly impact the global human population as this will likely disturb food security and affect the sustainability of industries. 

Role of Humans 

First and foremost, everyone should be educated about the soil regardless of their age, gender, nationality, financial state, etc. since soil conservation should start with the smallest attempts from individuals. Soil conservation involves a combination of practices to protect soil from degradation. This should be done with the fact in mind that soil is an ecosystem where millions and billions of organisms; both visible to the naked eye and even the tiniest of them that play important roles to retain life on Earth. They produce a fertile and healthy environment for all of us to live in. 

A rain garden
Figure 06: A rain garden

Planting a rain garden can be a sweet way, to begin with. It is a shallow depression in the yard which helps prevent soil erosion and promotes healthier soil as it prevents the washing away of nutrients with surface runoff. Other methods also can be followed to manage surface runoff such as planting trees and mulching. Installing a rainwater barrel is also something important that people will never think would help the soil. In our efforts to conserve life on Earth, let us never forget that the smallest gestures done from the heart will cause a huge positive impact on the betterment of mother nature. 

How mulching improves soil structure
Figure 07: How mulching improves soil structure

Maintaining an adequate amount of organic matter and biological life in the soil is also crucial in preserving good soil structure. People should be more sensitive to the use of pesticides and herbicides that can become detrimental to the soil microbes who enhance productivity in the soil through biological activities.   

To protect agricultural soil, practices such as conservation tillage, contour farming, crop rotation, and cover crops can be followed. Replacing the natural goodness of soil also comes important in management practices. Organic farming that replenishes nutrients and captures carbon is another method.   

The world would be a better place when humankind who define themselves as the superior life on earth, learns to think twice before dumping a toffee wrapper on the ground. Let us make the leap! Not tomorrow but today!

Written By:

Ruwangi Amarasooriya,
2nd Year Undergraduate,
Biological Science Stream,
Faculty of Science,
University of Colombo.

Malith Tennakoon,
1st Year Undergraduate,
Biological Science Stream,
Faculty of Science,
University of Colombo

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