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The distribution of the diversity of dirt
One teaspoon of soil contains
thousands of living creatures, and
scientists have just mapped every
single one of them on a global scale. Or, at
least, they have for the first time estimated
how diverse soil life is across the globe.
The above map builds on this, showing
the regions facing the greatest threats to
soil diversity, based on a wide range of
anthropogenic and natural influences.
Soil is by far the most biologically
diverse part of the earth and includes
earthworms, spiders, ants, beetles,
collembolans, mites, nematodes, fungi,
bacteria and other organisms. We are
familiar with flora and fauna, but life
below the surface extends farther than you
might expect. Nematodes, for example, are
roundworms that have been found up to
3.6 kilometres below the surface.
Soil organisms provide essential
ecosystem services to human beings and
the environment, including the support of
biodiversity and the regulation of climate.
Recent studies have also found that the
aboveground biodiversity of a region is
strongly correlated in a feedback loop
process to the soil health in the same area.
To protect soil’s vital role, the dense
180-page Global Soil Biodiversity Atlas
compiles the extent of human knowledge
about Earth’s most complex section of the
biosphere with countless maps, diagrams
and photographs and contributions from
over 121 experts from 26 countries. As
you might expect, the highest diversity
soils are located where you will find
the highest biodiversity of plants and
animals. What may prove more useful,
however, is a quantification of the threat
to this diversity.
Map of potential
threats to soil
in the Global Soil
by the European
Research Centre, as
part of the Global Soil
Potential threats to soil biodiversity
■ Very low
■ Very high
■ Not available
To create the above map, the
following was taken into account: loss of
aboveground biodiversity, plant species
loss, pollution and nutrient overloading,
agricultural use, cropland percentage
cover, overgrazing, fire risk, soil erosion,
desertification vulnerability and the
effects of climate change on aridity. All
datasets were then harmonised on a 0-1
scale and summed, with total scores
categorised into the accompanying scale.
The areas with the lowest level of risk
are generally less exposed to both direct
anthropogenic effects such as agriculture;
as well as indirect anthropogenic effects
such as climate change. At the opposite
end of the scale, the areas with highest
risk are generally those with the greatest
exposure to human activities.
Since there is still much to learn about
soil life and the impacts on its health
are multifarious, the authors point out
that the potential rather than the actual
level of threat has been mapped. The
practical use of this type of map depends
on the simultaneous development of
systems to monitor soil biodiversity
distribution. Despite its limitations, this
map represents the first preliminary
assessment of the risk to soil diversity on
a global scale.
To learn more about this map and
the complex nature of soil life, access
the Global Soil Biodiversity Atlas
27 June-1 July 2016: Esri User
Conference; San Diego, California.
1 July 2016: Esri UC Cinema
Experience; Melbourne and Perth.
7-8 July 2016: 6th Digital Earth
Summit; Beijing, China. http://www.
10-15 July 2016: IGARSS 2016; Beijing,
24-26 July 2016: The 12d
International Users Conference;
Brisbane, QLD. http://bit.ly/1TmZI3A
27-29 July 2016: Association of
Surveyors of Papua New Guinea
Congress; Port Moresby, PNG. http://
19 August 2016: Spatial Information
Day; Adelaide, SA. http://bit.ly/1Mwo8SQ
31 August-2 September 2016:
GeoCartí2016; Wellington, New Zealand.
1-2 September 2016: QLD Surveying
& Spatial Conference (QSSC);
Southport, QLD. http://bit.ly/1VWwp8M
2 September 2016: QLD Spatial
Excellence Awards (QSEA); Surfers
Paradise, QLD. http://bit.ly/1VWwg5i
1-2 September 2016: The
Commercial UAV Show Asia;
12-16 September 2016: International
Congress for Mine Surveying
(ISM2016); Brisbane, Queensland. http://
17 September 2016: NSW EISSI
Awards; Sydney, NSW. http://bit.
22 September 2016: FOSS4G; Bonn,
10-14 October 2016: Intelligent
Transport Systems World
Congress; Melbourne, VIC. http://www.
13 October 2016: An afternoon
with Jack Dangermond; Sydney, NSW.
Details to be announced.
14-15 October 2016: QLD Central
Group Conference; Gladstone, QLD.
1-3 November 2016: The Year in
Infrastructure 2016 Conference;
London, UK. http://www.bentley.com/
4 position June/July 2016
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