ArticlePDF Available


Soil is part of the Earth's life support system, but how should we convey the value of this and of soil as a resource? Consideration of the ecosystem services and natural capital of soils offers a framework going beyond performance indicators of soil health and quality, and recognizes the broad value that soil contributes to human wellbeing. This approach provides links and synergies between soil science and other disciplines such as ecology, hydrology, and economics, recognizing the importance of soils alongside other natural resources in sustaining the functioning of the Earth system. We articulate why an ecosystems approach is important for soil science in the context of natural capital, ecosystem services, and soil change. Soil change is defined as change on anthropogenic time scales and is an important way of conveying dynamic changes occurring in soils that are relevant to current political decision-making time scales. We identify four important areas of research: (i) framework development; (ii) quantifying the soil resource, stocks, fluxes, transformations, and identifying indicators; (iii) valuing the soil resource for its ecosystem services; and (iv) developing decision-support tools. Furthermore, we propose contributions that soil science can make to address these research challenges.
Natural Capital, Ecosystem
Services, and Soil Change: Why
Soil Science Must Embrace an
Ecosystems Approach
Soil is part of the Ear th’s life support s ystem, but how should we convey the value of this and
of soil as a resource? Considera on of the ecosystem services and natural capital of soils
o ers a framework going beyond performance indicators of soil health and quality, and rec-
ognizes the broad value that soil contributes to human wellbeing. This approach provides
links and synergies between soil science and other disciplines such as ecology, hydrology,
and economics, recognizing the importance of soils alongside other natural resources in
sustaining the func oning of the Earth system. We ar culate why an ecosystems approach
is important for soil science in the context of natural capital, ecosystem services, and soil
change. Soil change is de ned as change on anthropogenic me scales and is an important
way of conveying dynamic changes occurring in soils that are relevant to current poli cal
decision-making me scales. We iden fy four important areas of research: (i) framework
development; (ii) quan fying the soil resource, stocks, uxes, transforma ons, and iden -
fying indicators; (iii) valuing the soil resource for its ecosystem services; and (iv) developing
decision-support tools. Furthermore, we propose contribu ons that soil science can make
to address these research challenges.
Abbrevia ons: GDP, gross domes c product.
Soils provide vital func ons for society (Blum, 2006).  ey support and
sustain our terrestrial ecosystems; grow our food, feed,  ber, and wood; regulate the atmo-
sphere;  lter water; recycle waste; preserve our heritage; act as an aesthetic and cultural
resource; and provide a vital gene pool and biological resource from which many of our
antibiotics have been derived (D’Costa et al., 2006). Despite their role as the biogeochemi-
cal engine of the Earth’s life support system, soils are o en perceived as failing to attract
the attention of policymakers and society at large (Bouma, 2001), especially with regard
to soil protection and sustainability. While water and air in uence our health because of
direct consumption, the connection between human health and soils is o en more subtle
and still is not fully understood. As we deal with global change and increasing populations,
however, soils are increasingly being linked to human health and well-being, whether by
the release of As to groundwater by redox cycling in the soils of Southeast Asia (Polizzotto
et al., 2008), by the impact of soil moisture on the spread of malaria (Patz et al., 1998),
or even the exacerbation of fatal heat waves in Europe due to reduction of the soil mois-
ture bu er (Seneviratne et al., 2006). As we understand the signi cance of managing the
Earth’s soils, not only for food production but increasingly for environmental regulation
and Earth system functioning, it becomes crucial that we de ne its value in suitable terms
for policymakers, land managers, and future generations. It is therefore vital that soil scien-
tists are actively involved in the development of frameworks that convey the societal value
of soil functions in terms of both human well-being and the sustainment of the Earth’s
life support systems and the diversity of life the planet holds.
Research into the concept of soil quality is an ongoing e ort to generate indicators of the
performance of soils that can inform policy (Doran and Parkin, 1996). In the European
Union (EU) , the Driving forces, Pressures, States, Impacts, Responses framework is widely
used to identify links between policy and its impact on natural resources, including soils
(Blum et al., 2004). An ecosystems approach goes further, however, by valuing natural
resources and the bene ts we obtain from them in terms of the goods a nd serv ices that they
provide to society (Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, 2005). Westman (1977)  rst pro-
posed that the value of ecosystems and their bene t to society should be incorporated into
Special Section:
Soil Architecture and Function
D.A. Robinson*
N. Hockley
E. Domina
I. Lebron
K.M. Scow
B. Reynolds
B.A. Emme
A.M. Keith
L.W. de Jonge
P. S ch jø nn in g
P. Moldrup
S.B. Jones
M. Tuller
The Earth’s mantle of soil is a cri -
cal part of the planet’s life support
system, but how can the value of the
soil resource be quantified or con-
veyed? In this article we articulate
why it is important for soil science
to engage an ecosystems approach,
with valua on posed in the context
of natural capital, ecosystem services
and soil change.
D.A. Robinson, I. Lebron, B. Reynolds, and
B.A. Emme , Centre for Ecology and Hydrol-
ogy, Environment Centre Wales, Deiniol
Road, Bangor, UK; N. Hockley, School of
Environment, Natural Resources and Geogra-
phy, Bangor Univ., Bangor, UK.; E. Domina ,
AgResearch, Grasslands Research Centre,
Tennent Drive, Priva te Bag 11008, Palmers ton
North 4 442, New Zealand; K.M. Scow, Dep. of
Land, Air and Water Resources, Univ. of Cali-
for nia, Davi s, CA 95616; A.M. Keith , Cen tre f or
Ecology and Hydrology, Lancaster Environ-
ment Centre, Lancaster, UK; L.W. de Jonge,
Dep. of Agroecology, Aarhus Univ., Tjele,
Denmark; P. Moldrup, Dep. of Biotechnology,
Chemistr y and Environmental Engineering,
Aalborg Univ., Aaborg, Denmark; S.B. Jones,
Dep. of Plants, Soils and Climate, Utah State
Univ., Logan, UT 84322; and M. Tuller, Dep. of
Soil, Water and Environmental Science, Univ.
of Arizona, Tucson, AZ 85721. *Corresponding
author (
Vadose Zone J.
Received 24 May 2011.
© Soil Science Society of America
5585 Guilford Rd., Madison, WI 53711 USA.
All rights reserved. No part of this periodical may
be reproduced or transmi ed in any form or by any
means, electronic or mechanical, including photo-
copying, recording, or any informa on storage and
retriev al system, witho ut permission i n wri ng from
the publisher.
policy making.  is concept was further developed by Daily (1997)
and Costanza et al. (1997a) and their sources. Since the release
of the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment report (Millennium
Ecosystem Assessment, 2005) and the stark warnings it contained,
governments and policy-making bodies have begun adopting
the idea of an ecosystems approach to pursue sustainability and
incorporate resource life support value into decision making (e.g.,
Department for Environment, Food and Rural A airs, 2007).
ese new directions would be strengthened by incorporation of
soils into these frameworks, capitalizing on developed and emerg-
ing soil science concepts and thus conveying the importance and
value of soils to decision makers.  e EU has already identi ed
soil ecosystem services as a priority research area in the European
Union Soil  ematic Strategy.  e EU is  nancing a number of
projects that incorporate soil ecosystem services, including the
SoilTrEC project (Banwart, 2011), the SOIL SERVICE project,
and the EcoFINDERS project.
Soil quality and health (Karlen et al., 1997; Singer and Ewing,
2000), along with the emerging concept of “soil change” (Tugel
et al., 2005), are frameworks that were recently developed in soil
science. Concurrently, ecosystem services and natural capital
frameworks have emerged from ecology and economics (Daily,
1997; Costanza et al., 1997b). In Fig. 1, we demonstrate the inter-
relationships among these concepts, each of which are vital for
conveying the importance of soils to society.  e soil resource is
composed of material stocks such as minerals, C, water, air, and
nutrients, with important characteristics that we identify through
soil formation processes such as horizonation, aggregation, and
colloid formation (Churchman, 2010). Soil stocks constitute the
soil natural capital (Robinson et al., 2009; Dominati et al., 2010a)
on which processes act.  ese lead to  ows and transformations,
resulting in changes in the stocks through interactions with the
wider environment. Ecosystem services result from the  ows of
materials and energy.  ese include out ows of C in food, feed,
or  ber, in ows of C that aid climate regulation, the contribu-
tion of soils to water regulation and  ltering, and waste disposal
and recycling. Building or improving the soil natural capital is an
important aim, contributing to soil resilience and maintaining bal-
ance in the provision of ecosystem services. It is important that our
focus on ecosystem services does not ignore the important role of
natural capital or result in the provision of services at the expense
of changes in the inventory value of natural capital stocks that
could be unsustainable.
e soil quality framework (Karlen et al., 1997) provides an indica-
tor of the state of the soil natural capital stocks at any given point
in time, while the concept of soil change (Richter and Markewitz,
2001; Tugel et al., 2005; Richter et al., 2011) recognizes that soils
are continually evolving and transforming, especially within
anthropogenic time scales (Fig. 1).  e current state of the soil is
termed the actual state, while its inherent state might be thought
of as its undisturbed state, and its future state is that which can
be attainable. Last century, much of soil science emerged from an
interest in understanding how soils formed in relatively undis-
turbed environments during long periods of time. Soil change
recognizes the dynamic response of soils to anthropogenic activity
in much the same way that we study climate and land use change.
e soil science emphasis on gradual change during pedogenesis
can be counterproductive in discussions with policymakers, who
can interpret gradual change as unimportant within their time
in o ce. Conveying the dynamic nature of soils, and that change
Fig. 1.  e temporal balance between soil natural capital and ecosystem goods and services supporting the concept of “soil change.”  e ascending light
green arrow through soil natural capital indicates capital improvement, whereas the descending red arrow is capital degradation. With time, ecosystem
services will diminish if capital is degraded; conversely, building capital may increase the soil’s capacity to deliver goods and services.  is is a broad
generalization because building capital may also result in some disservices.  e end goal is a sustainable balance of capital and ecosystem services.
occurs on time scales that are relevant to policymakers and their
generation, is an important challenge for soil science. Figure 1
shows that all these concepts are complementary and contribute
to both our understanding and the way we convey the contribution
and value of soils to human beings and their societies.
Given the importance of developing these approaches for soil
science, there are signi cant challenges that can be identi ed to
combine these concepts into a useful framework. We have iden-
ti ed four areas that require further research, development, or
synthesis to provide tools for bridging the science–policy divide:
• developing a framework;
• quantifying the soil resource, stocks,  uxes, transformations
and identifying indicators;
• valuing the soil resource for its ecosystem services;
• developing management strategies and decision-
support tools.
6Developing a Framework
Daily et al. (1997) presented perhaps the  rst attempt to iden-
tify distinct soil ecosystem services (Table 1). Although this has
been expanded by others (Wall, 2004; Andrews et al., 2004;
Weber, 2007; Clothier et al., 2008; Dominati et al., 2010a;
Dominati, 2011), to date there has been no accepted ecosystem
service framework for soils. More broadly, there is still much dis-
cussion and re nement of the ecosystem services framework in
general. Fisher et al. (2009) provided a recent overview of how
ecosystem services are de ned, showing that the literature has
no commonly accepted consistent de nition.  is is something
that they, and others (Boyd and Banzhaf, 2007; Wallace, 2007),
argued is required to turn a conceptual framework into an opera-
tional system of accounting.  is represents a challenge for soil
science but also an opportunity to engage at this stage to shape
the broader framework.
One aspect of framework development that is of particular
importance for soil science is the treatment of soil natural capital
(Robinson et al., 2009; Dominati et al., 2010a), given that soil is
perhaps most obviously conceptualized as a stock that contributes
to  nal ecosystem services primarily through supporting processes.
e key to sustainability is ensuring that ecosystem services are not
derived at the expense of the soil natural capital, for instance con-
version to intensive agriculture without some form of regeneration,
a more extreme example being strip mining without restoration.
Perhaps some of the biggest challenges we face in soil science are
preventing soil degradation and erosion in an increasingly popu-
lous world. To date, natural capital has been underemphasized
in the ecosystem approach, where the focus has been more on
ows of ecosystem services rather than on the stock of natural
capital from which they are derived. Approaches that incorporate
natural capital have been proposed by Palm et al. (2007), with a
new comprehensive typology proposed by Robinson et al. (2009)
based on mass, energy, and organization (Table 2). Recognizing
the important contributions of both approaches, Dominati et al.
(2010a) attempted to present a synthesis of both the ecosystem
services and natural capital approaches (Robinson and Lebron,
2010; Dominati et al., 2010b). Continued e orts are required to
build an ecosystems framework for soils that properly integrates
ecosystem services and natural capital and links with other e orts
under the general ecosystem services approach.
Table 1. Soil ecosystem services identi ed by Daily et al. (1997), cat-
egorized according to the Millen nium Ecosystem Asse ssment (2005)
classi cation of ecosystem services. Note that habitats and gene pool
could be regarded as natural capital stocks, rather than ecosystem
service  ows.
Classi cation Services
Supporting renewal, retention and deliver y of nutrients for plants
habitat and gene pool
Regu lating regul ation of major elemental cycles
bu er ing,  lteri ng, and moderation of the hydrolog ic cycle
disposa l of wastes and dead orga nic matter
Provisioning building material
physical stability and support for plants
Cultura l heritage sites, archeolog ical preserver of ar tifacts
spiritua l value, religious sites, and burial grounds
Table 2. A summary of the soil natural capital typology adapted
from Robinson et al. (2009). This is not an exhaustive list but a
guide for classification.
Natura l capital Measura ble or quanti able soil stock
Solid inorgan ic material: minera l
stock and nutrient stoc k
organic material: organic matter
and C stocks a nd organisms
Liquid soil water content
Gas soil air
ermal energy soil temperature
Biomass energ y soil biomass
Physicochemica l structure soil physicochem ical organization,
soil structure
Biotic struct ure biological population org anization,
food webs, a nd biodiversity
Spatiotempora l structure connectivity, patche s, and gradients
6Quan ca on
e next challenge is to identify the appropriate indicators and
metrics for evaluating natural capital and ecosystem goods and
services. Based on the natural capital framework, one approach is
to evaluate soil stocks and determine how they change with time
(Bellamy et al., 2005; Emmett et al., 2010).  is is one challenge
for pro le-scale soil architecture because soil structural change
may not be explained by a reductionist approach (de Jonge et al.,
2009). Furthermore, measuring the change in soil stocks with
time is not trivial due to changes in soil bulk density (Lee et al.,
2009). Perhaps the only way to truly estimate changes in stocks is
to measure entire soil pro les using soil cores down to either lithic
or paralithic contacts. Other opportunities that may exist with
regard to soil architecture include methods to evaluate soil depth
across landscapes and determining the depth distribution of soil
properties, particularly bulk density and porosity, to determine
whether they transition smoothly or if there is an abrupt change
due to horizonation.
An alternative approach to quantifying stocks is to measure the
uxes into and out of the soil as a means to estimate changes in the
magnitude of the stocks.  is still requires a one-time estimate of
the stocks to determine a baseline for natural capital.  is approach
is also not trivial because closing the mass balance is challenging,
although some would argue that all that is needed is to know the
relative changes. is approach may be more suitable for certain
properties under speci c boundary conditions, such as for deter-
mining C  uxes from peatlands and for looking at the impacts of
di erent land uses on soil natural capital stocks. Another potential
approach is to measure proxy parameters when a stock or  ux is
hard to quantify (Dominati, 2011). For example, the number of
workable days can be used as an indicator for susceptibility to soil
compaction. An important contribution is therefore to determine
how to best assess “soil change” with regard to soil stocks,  uxes,
or transformations. Much of the existing monitoring at national
scales tends to emphasize direct measurement of soil stocks, as
done in the UK’s Countryside Survey (Emmett et al., 2010).
Soil indicators are parameters that re ect the state or function of
the soil system.  ese indicators are relatively easy to measure and
are widely used to assess soil quality and health (Doran and Parkin,
1996; Karlen et al., 1997), although there is still much discussion
with regard to which are the most appropriate.  e existing indica-
tors need to be reviewed and, as appropriate, linked to functional
outcomes at the  eld, farm, or catchment scale using a soil natural
capital and ecosystem services approach.  e outcomes of such a
review will increase the value of the indicators to land managers
and policymakers by providing them with the ability to assess
whether land use and land use changes align with environmen-
tal policy statements and sustainability principles.  e indicator
approach is widely used in other areas for decision making, for
example the economic indicator gross domestic product (GDP).
Similarly, developing internationally recognized indicators with
universally accepted measurement methods and protocols may
enable comparison at national and continental scales.  is could be,
for example, for soil C stocks and changes for the Kyoto Protocol
or C footprinting for products (British Standards Institute, 2011).
In addition, we should consider an indicator framework that will
allow us to assess the function of anthropogenic or reclaimed soils.
e challenge is then to use existing indicators of soil quality while
shi ing their focal point toward ecosystem services.
6Valua on and Tradeo s
ere will always be tradeo s among ecosystem services, manufac-
tured goods, and other sources of human well-being. We implicitly
ascribe relative values to them whenever we choose between alter-
native actions such as deciding whether to use land for production
agriculture or a wildlife reserve. To understand and inform these
decisions, it can be helpful to render these values explicit, and this
is what environmental valuation seeks to do. By valuing ecosystem
services in common units, usually, but not always, monetary, it is
anticipated that the contribution of ecosystems, including soils, to
human well-being will be recognized in societal decision making
(Pearce et al., 2006). Otherwise, we tend to consider only those
goods and services that are currently traded in markets (Edwards-
Jones et al., 2000).
As well as assisting with speci c decisions, it is hoped that environ-
mental valuation will lead to the “greening” of existing economic
indicators such as the GDP, which at present only incorporates
goods and services traded in markets or supplied by governments,
ignoring other sources of human well-being such as flood con-
trol and C sequestration that are incompletely valued by markets
(Organization for E conomic Co-operation and Development, 2011).
In addition, the GDP, which is a measure of the  ow of goods and
services, does not take into account the depreciation of natural cap-
ital or resource stocks. While some national accounting measures
are estimated net of depreciation or degradation of manufactured
capital, the depreciation or degradation of natural capital is gener-
ally ignored. Such externalities need to be internalized to achieve
green growth. Developing a coherent ecosystem services–natural
capital framework is essential for the proper valuation of the envi-
ronment, a nd it is imperative that soil scientists participate in this
important process.
6Decision-Support Tools
While the methods of environmental valuation are well established
and case studies abound, the practical challenge of valuing soil
ecosystem services and the natural capital that produces them is
formidable. As a result, the feasibility of systematically incorporat-
ing environmental values into existing economic decision-making
tools (e.g., cost–bene t analysis) and accounting systems (e.g., the
GDP) has yet to be fully understood.  is may pose a substantial
challenge to approaches by which society currently makes deci-
sions.  e development of economic tools for decision making may
not be seen as the remit of soil science, but soil scientists must
engage in this process . One reason is that these decision tool s need
strong input from a soil management perspective, especially with
regard to land use. A prerequisite, and current research challenge,
is understanding the interaction among land management, land
use, and soil change. Already, soil science has made important
contributions by developing decision-support tools for land man-
agement (Andrews et al., 2004; Tugel et al., 2008).  e challenge
now is to evolve many of these tools or decision-support methods
so that they can be used by many sectors of society for wider policy
decisions and be applied to di erent types of ecosystems rather
than solely for production agriculture. Attempts to develop such
tools for ecology are now emerging, such as Invest (Nelson et al.,
2009); integration with soil science is essential. As a community,
soil scientists must develop information, including soil spatial
information and soil functioning data that are readily integrated
into new decision-support tools that can be used by other com-
munities such as ecology and hydrology.
6 How Should Soil Science
Respond to This Challenge?
We believe that soil science should embrace the opportunity to
promote the value of soils for society and human well-being so
as to demonstrate that the soil’s life support functions need to be
properly recognized within the ecosystems approach.  is requires
action by the soil science community to develop the soils compo-
nent of the ecosystems approach by:
1. creating the appropriate frameworks to determine the
natural capital and intermediate and  nal goods and services
supplied by soils that bene t human well-being , maintain
the Earth’s life support systems, and promote biodiversity;
2. identifying appropriate measurement and monitoring
programs with agreed metrics to develop the evidence base
on the “state and change” of soil natural capital and the
ecosystem services that  ow from it;
3. developing the means to value soils, which can feed into the
frameworks being developed in other disciplines, and where
possible develop synergy with existing national accounting
frameworks such as GDP and state-of-the-environment
reporting; and
4. engaging in the development of decision-support tools that
incorporate “soil change” and that will enable the most
informed comparison of tradeo s in the decision-making
process, cognizant of the enormous practical challenges
this implies.
Ecologists began to move forward with framework development
and, in doing so, recognized the vital role that soils play (Daily et
al., 1997; Wall, 2004; Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, 2005).
By embracing this  rst step, the soils community can infuse into
this approach the wealth of information and knowledge devel-
oped duri ng more tha n 100 yr of soil science a nd bene t from the
resulting synergies with other disciplines. Involvement of multiple
disciplines is needed to develop and agree on a way forward and
then apply this to the ecosystems approach. Enormous opportuni-
ties will be generated by the frami ng of fut ure soil science research
needs in the context of contributing to an ecosystems approach
that can inform policy and protect the vital functions of soil that
support human well-being, the Earth’s life support systems, and
the diversity of life on this planet.
Funding for D. Robinson and B. Reynolds for this research was provided in part by
the European Commission FP 7 Collaborative Project “Soil Transformations in Euro-
pean Catchments” (SoilTrEC) (Grant Agreement no. 244118). Discussions held as a
part of the large framework project “Soil Infrastructure, Interfaces, and Translocation
Processes in Inner Space (‘Soil-it-is’)” supported by the Danish Research Council for
Technology and Production Sciences contributed to the development of this paper.
Andrews, S.S., D.L. Karlen, and C.A. Cambardella. 2004. The soil management
assessment framework: A quan ta ve soil quality evalua on method. Soil
Sci. Soc. Am. J. 68:1945–1962. doi:10.2136/sssaj2004.1945
Banwart, S.A. 2011. Save our soils. Nature 474:151–152. doi:10.1038/474151a
Bellamy, P.H., P.J. Loveland, R.I. Bradley, R.M. Lark, and G.J.D. Kirk. 2005. Car-
bon losses from all soils across England and Wales 1978–2003. Nature
437:245–248. doi:10.1038/nature04038
Blum, W.E.H. 2006. Func ons of soil for society and the environment. Rev. Envi-
ron. Sci. Biotechnol. 4:75–79. doi:10.1007/s11157-005-2236-x
Blum, W.E.H., J. Busing, and L. Montanarella. 2004. Research needs in support
of the European thema c strategy for soil protec on. Trends Anal. Chem.
23:680–685. doi:10.1016/j.trac.2004.07.007
Bouma, J. 2001. The new role of soil science in a network society. Soil Sci.
166:874–879. doi:10.1097/00010694-200112000-00002
Boyd, J., and S. Banzhaf. 2007. What are ecosystem services? The need for
standardized environmental accoun ng units. Ecol. Econ. 63:616–626.
Bri sh Standards Ins tute. 2011. PAS 2050: Speci ca ons for the assessment of
the life cycle greenhouse gas emissions of goods and services. BSI, London.
Churchman, G.J. 2010. The philosophical status of soil science. Geoderma
157:214–221. doi:10.1016/j.geoderma.2010.04.018
Clothier, B.E., S.R. Green, and M. Deurer. 2008. Preferen al ow and transport
in soil: Progress and prognosis. Eur. J. Soil Sci. 59:2–13. doi:10.1111/j.1365-
Costanza, R., J.C. Cumberland, H.E. Daly, R. Goodland, and R. Norgaard. 1997a.
An introduc on to ecological economics. St. Lucie Press, Boca Raton, FL.
Costanza, R., R. d’Arge, R. de Groot, S. Farber, M. Grasso, B. Hannon, et al.
1997b. The value of the world’s ecosystem services and natural capital. Na-
ture 387:253–260. doi:10.1038/387253a0
Daily, G.C. (ed.). 1997. Nature’s services: Societal dependence on natural eco-
systems. Island Press, Washington, DC.
Daily, G.C., P.A. Matson, and P.M. Vitousek. 1997. Ecosystem services supplied
by soils. p. 113–132. In G.C. Daily (ed.) Nature’s services: Societal depen-
dence on natural ecosystems. Island Press, Washington, DC.
D’Costa, V.M., K.M. McGrann, D.W. Hughes, and G.D. Wright. 2006. Sampling the
an bio c resistome. Science 311:374–377. doi:10.1126/science.1120800
de Jonge, L.W., P. Moldrup, and P. Schjønning. 2009. Soil infrastructure, interfaces
& transloca on processes in inner space (“Soil-it-is”): Towards a road map for
the constraints and crossroads of soil architecture and biophysical processes.
Hydrol. Earth Syst. Sci. 13:1485–1502. doi:10.5194/hess-13-1485-2009
Department for Environment, Food and Rural A airs. 2007. Securing a healthy
natural environment: An ac on plan for embedding an ecosystems ap-
proach. Rep. PB12853. DEFRA, London.
Domina , E.J. 2011. Quan fying and valuing soil ecosystem services. Ph.D. diss.
Massey Univ., Palmerston North, New Zealand.
Domina , E., M. Pa erson, and A. Mackay. 2010a. A framework for classifying
and quan fying the natural capital and ecosystem services of soils. Ecol.
Econ. 69:1858–1868. doi:10.1016/j.ecolecon.2010.05.002
Domina , E., M. Pa erson, and A. Mackay. 2010b. Response to Robinson and
Lebron: Learning from complementary approaches to soil natural capital
and ecosystem services. Ecol. Econ. 70:139–140. doi:10.1016/j.ecole-
Doran, J.W., and T.B. Parkin. 1996. Quan ta ve indicators of soil quality: A mini-
mum data set. p. 25–37. In J.W. Doran and A.J. Jones (ed.) Methods for as-
sessing soil quality. SSSA Spec. Publ. 49. SSSA, Madison, WI.
Edwards-Jones, G., B. Davies, and S.S. Hussain. 2000. Ecological economics: An
introduc on. Wiley-Blackwell, Oxford, UK.
Emme , B.A., B. Reynolds, P.M. Chamberlain, E. Rowe, D. Spurgeon, S.A. Brit-
tain, et al. 2010. Countryside survey: Soils report from 2007. CS Tech. Rep.
9/07. Ctr. Ecol. Hydrol., Wallingford, UK.
Fisher, B., R.K. Turner, and P. Morling. 2009. De ning and classifying ecosystem
services for decision making. Ecol. Econ. 68:643–653. doi:10.1016/j.ecole-
Karlen, D.L., M.J. Mausbach, J.W. Doran, R.G. Cline, R.F. Harris, and G.E. Schuman.
1997. Soil quality: A concept, de ni on and framework for evalua on. Soil
Sci. Soc. Am. J. 61:4–10. doi:10.2136/sssaj1997.03615995006100010001x
Lee, J., J.W. Hopmans, D.E. Rolston, S.G. Baer, and J. Six. 2009. Determining soil
carbon stock changes: Simple bulk density correc ons fail. Agric. Ecosyst.
Environ. 134:251–256. doi:10.1016/j.agee.2009.07.006
Millennium Ecosystem Assessment. 2005. Ecosystems and human well-being:
Synthesis. Island Press, Washington, DC.
Nelson, E., G. Mendoza, J. Regetz, S. Polasky, H. Tallis, D.R. Cameron, et al. 2009.
Modeling mul ple ecosystem services, biodiversity conserva on, com-
modity produc on, and tradeo s at landscape scales. Front. Ecol. Environ
7:4–11. doi:10.1890/080023
Organiza on for Economic Co-opera on and Development. 2011. Towards
green growth. OECD Publ., Paris.
Palm, C., P. Sanchez, S. Ahamed, and A. Awi . 2007. Soils: A contemporary
perspec ve. Annu. Rev. Environ. Resour. 32:99–129. doi:10.1146/annurev.
Patz, J.A., K. Strzepek, S. Lele, M. Hedden, S. Greene, B. Noden, S.I. Hay, L.
Kalkstein, and J.C. Beier. 1998. Predic ng key malarial transmission fac-
tors, bi ng and entomological inocula on rates, using modelled soil
moisture in Kenya. Trop. Med. Int. Health 3:818–827. doi:10.1046/j.1365-
Pearce, D.W., G. Atkinson, and S. Mourato. 2006. Cost-bene t analysis and the
environment: Recent developments. OECD Publ., Paris.
Polizzo o, M.L., B.D. Kocar, S.G. Benner, M. Sampson, and S. Fendorf. 2008.
Near-surface wetland sediments as a source of arsenic release to ground
water in Asia. Nature 454:505–509. doi:10.1038/nature07093
Richter, D.deB., S.S. Andrews, A.R. Bacon, S. Billings, C.A. Cambardella, N. Caval-
laro, et al. 2011. Human–soil rela ons are changing rapidly: Proposals from
SSSA’s new cross-divisional Working Group on Soil Change. Soil Sci. Soc. Am.
J. 75:2079–2084.
Richter, D.D., Jr., and D. Markewitz. 2001. Understanding soil change: Soil sus-
tainability over millennia, centuries, and decades. Cambridge Univ. Press,
Cambridge, UK.
Robinson, D.A., and I. Lebron. 2010. On the natural capital and ecosystem ser-
vices of soils. Ecol. Econ. 70:137–138. doi:10.1016/j.ecolecon.2010.08.012
Robinson, D.A., I. Lebron, and H. Vereecken. 2009. On the de ni on of the
natural capital of soils: A framework for descrip on, evalua on, and moni-
toring. Soil Sci. Soc. Am. J. 73:1904–1911. doi:10.2136/sssaj2008.0332
Seneviratne, S.I., D. Luthi, M. Litschi, and C. Schar. 2006. Land–atmosphere
coupling and climate change in Europe. Nature 443:205–209. doi:10.1038/
Singer, M.J., and S. Ewing. 2000. Soil quality. In M.E. Sumner (ed.) Handbook of
soil science. CRC Press, Boca Raton, FL.
Tugel, A.J., J.E. Herrick, J.R. Brown, M.J. Mausbach, W. Pucke , and K. Hipple.
2005. Soil change, soil survey, and natural resources decision making. Soil
Sci. Soc. Am. J. 69:738–747. doi:10.2136/sssaj2004.0163
Tugel, A.J., S.A. Wills, and J.E. Herrick. 2008. Soil change guide: Procedures for soil
survey and resource inventory. Version 1.1. Natl. Soil Surv. Ctr., Lincoln, NE.
Wall, D.H. 2004. Sustaining biodiversity and ecosystem services in soils and
sediments. Island Press, Washington, DC.
Wallace, K.J. 2007. Classi ca on of ecosystem services: Problems and solu ons.
Biol. Conserv. 139:235–246. doi:10.1016/j.biocon.2007.07.015
Weber, J.L. 2007. Accoun ng for soil in the SEEA. Eur. Environ. Agency, Rome.
Westman, W.E. 1977. How much are nature’s services worth? Science 197:960–
964. doi:10.1126/science.197.4307.960
... Soils have usually taken a backseat to the issues of climate change, air quality, water, marine, biodiversity, and pollution, although 25% of the world's biodiversity can found in soil and around 95% of our food depends on soil, and soils and land management could play a critical role in reducing greenhouse gas emissions as a carbon sink (Minasny et al. 2017;Amelung et al. 2020). The term 'soil security' (Koch et al. 2012(Koch et al. , 2013Field et al. 2017;McBratney et al. 2014McBratney et al. , 2017aBouma 2019;Bennett et al. 2019;Montanarella & Panagos 2021) was presented as a holistic definition and framework, to maintain and enhance the world's soil resources to provide food, fibre, freshwater, energy, in order to sustain natural capital, biodiversity, and ecosystem goods and services (Dominati et al. 2010(Dominati et al. , 2013(Dominati et al. , 2016Haygarth & Ritz 2009;Robinson et al. 2012;McBratney et al. 2014McBratney et al. , 2017bSamarasinghe et al. 2013a,b). Furthermore. ...
Full-text available
Te toto o te tangata he kai, te oranga o te tangata, he whenua, he oneone While food provides the blood in our veins, our health is drawn from the land and soils ABSTRACT Soil security has increasingly been used as a term to emphasise the importance of the soil resource on the planet-globally, nationally, regionally, locally-to produce food, fibre, and freshwater, contribute to energy and climate sustainability, and maintain biodiversity and the overall protection of ecosystems. Indigenous Māori in New Zealand regard land and soils as an intrinsic part of themselves, through ancestral connection termed whakapapa that places them within the natural environment and soil ecosystems, and regard soils as integral for life, health and well-being, a basis for aspirations and values across cultural, social, environmental, economic, and political dimensions, and a significant part of spiritual, cultural, and economic fulfilment. Soil security, and food security, are terms easily understood and adopted by Māori. In this paper the multi-dimensional context of soil security is aligned with indigenous Māori values, perspectives, concepts, and knowledge and explored through a Māori lens using specific examples. We demonstrate how each of the dimensions of soil security (capability, condition, capital, connectivity, codification) can be interpreted by indigenous Māori and framed within a soil security paradigm to not only provide a basis for supporting distinct cultural values and cultural aspirations but contribute to soil and food security nationally and globally and contribute to sustainable development goals.
... Neal et al. 2020). The ecological functioning of soils and the effects of degradation on soil ecology have become an increasing focus for soil science (McNiell & Winiwarter 2004;Haygarth & Ritz 2009;Robinson et al. 2012). More recently, many authors have stressed understanding soils and soil health from an economic perspective (Bowman et al. 2016;Stevens 2019), supporting natural capital and ecosystem services (Dominati 2013;Dominati et al. 2010Dominati et al. , 2016Samarasinghe et al. 2013a, b, McBratney et al. 2017bLehmann et al 2020), regenerative agriculture (Schon et al. 2013), and contributing to international sustainable development goals (Keestra et al. 2016(Keestra et al. , 2018Bouma 2019Bouma , 2020 and links to human health and well-being (Steffan et al. 2018;Stronge et al. 2020;Friedrichsen et al. 2021). ...
Full-text available
A Government funded science project "soil health and resilience: oneone ora, tangata ora" (2016-2021) was carried out to support the development of a longer-term and more comprehensive view of soil health and resilience within Aotearoa-New Zealand and to develop an integrated soil health framework that can be used by a wide range of end-users. As part of this research programme we conducted work with a wide variety of indigenous Māori groups and organisations to understand the range of perspectives, values, central concepts, and knowledge of soils and soil health. This indigenous research has run in parallel to a science led theme of work. We provide a summary of findings, to help elevate the importance of land and soils for indigenous peoples, to build research capability and capacity with (and within) indigenous groups, and to articulate and explain indigenous soils knowledge, values, and concepts to a variety of end-user groups including, tribal groups (e.g. iwi/hapū) and Māori organisations themselves, and outwardly to non-indigenous researchers, central and local government, business, industry, land managers, and land owners. Our goal is to show the importance of Māori knowledge in research, planning, and policy, and to improve discussions on the management of land and soils in future.
... The ES are related to the main ecosystem processes (such as water regulation, soil loss, and pesticide control), aim to control or modify abiotic and biotic factors, and are associated with the need to mitigate the impacts of current and future environmental hazards (Xu et al., 2020). The payment of subsidies, designed to limit soil erosion and restore degraded soils, is a controversial topic as it is not clear if their application over decades has determined net benefits (Kumar, 2010;Robinson et al., 2012;van Leeuwen et al., 2019). Payment for ecosystem service (PES) continues to attract attention of scholars and stakeholders as an efficient tool to design policies and incentive mechanisms (Swinton et al., 2007;Jónsson and Davíðsdóttir, 2016) able to encourage environmental conservation strategies (Papanastasis et al., 2015;Smith et al., 2015;Zhang et al., 2013). ...
The relevant erosive effects of extraordinary rainfall events due to climate change require establishing soil conservation strategies to prevent damages due to hydrogeological instability. The "tolerable" soil loss, i.e., the maximum soil loss compatible with sustainable soil use, represents a quantitative target to establish the effectiveness of actions to control soil erosion. In this paper, a new approach to defining the condition corresponding to a tolerable soil loss is proposed. At first, using the statistical analysis of the measured annual values of the rainfall erosivity factor, the cover and management factor C T , for which the maximum tolerable soil loss is equal to the annual soil loss of given return period T, is defined. Then, for the Sicilian region, a relationship between the C T factor obtained for T = 1000 years and the mean annual value of the rainfall erosivity factor, R, is established. For a given value C of the cover and management factor, this relationship allows for the establishment of the corresponding mean annual rainfall erosivity factor, named R land-use. The result C ≤ C T for T = 1000 years is obtained for areas with R ≤ R land-use , and the compliance with soil loss tolerance is then assured. Conversely, for areas characterized by R > R land-use , the reduction of C to a value less than C T for T = 1000 years is required to obtain a tolerable soil loss condition. Finally, for the Sicilian region, the overlay between the C spatial distribution for arable lands (mainly cereals and legumes) and areas covered by vineyards, derived from the land use map, and the C T spatial distribution allowed to define areas in which tolerable soil loss conditions occur or soil conservation strategies are required.
... Considering that soil ecosystem provides many services, a holistic assessment framework, useful to establish the economic value of soil Ecosystem Services (ES), is required. Furthermore, no shared framework for the classification and economic valuation of soil ES [31] is available. ...
Full-text available
Soil erosion by water, and the consequent loss of a non-renewable resource, is a relevant environmental issue which has economic, ecologic, and social repercussions. In the context of the European Green Deal, the increasing awareness of soil Ecosystem Services is leading to give the due relevance to this problem. Notwithstanding the recent soil conservation strategies adopted by the Common Agricultural Policy had positive effects, the concern regarding this topic is drastically increasing for the normalization of extraordinary rainfall events due to climate change. Recent events occurred in Europe demonstrated that landscape protection is often inadequate and interventions to prevent damages due to hydrogeological instability are scarce. The determination of a “tolerable” soil loss TSL is useful to establish a quantitative standard to measure the effectiveness of strategies and techniques to control soil erosion. However, soil conservation strategies/works designed by the mean annual value of the climatic variable, as the rainfall erosivity factor R, are not appropriate for some erosive events which produce intolerable sediment yield values. Therefore, the adoption of an adequate TSL, which could help to ensure the protection of soil functions and a sustainable soil use, should be a primary goal to reach for policy makers. In this paper, a new method to define the tolerable soil loss is proposed. This approach is based on the statistical analysis of the measured annual values of R and leads to the determination of the cover and management factor for which the maximum tolerable soil loss is equal to the annual soil loss of given return period. The analysis demonstrated that to limit soil erosion to the tolerable soil loss, interventions to change land use, reduce field length or apply support practices can be carried out.
... Industrial or commodity based agriculture has expanded due to the support of national-scale agricultural practices developed countries designed to promote commodities and trade (Lapola et al., 2014). Despite societal recognition of soils' importance to national economic well-being (Robinson et al., 2012), the national policies that have promoted the use of modern agricultural practices including mechanization, intensification of production, shortened rotations, and use of inorganic fertilizers and synthetic pest control measures, have frequently reduced SOC levels and associated services (Al-Kaisi and Kwaw-Mensah, 2020; Guo and Gifford, 2002;Lal et al., 2003;Lapola et al., 2014). Pressure to compete globally has prompted agricultural intensification and has compromised industrial-scale agriculture's social license to operate. ...
Full-text available
Understanding how to promote farmers’ use of carbon (C) centric practices known to increase soil C sequestration is needed to design information systems and orient policy, investment and environmental markets. Farmers undertake individual and collective actions using techniques that have varied over time and space according to land potential, farming systems, values and, evolving political and environmental contexts. Interviews with US Midwest conservation, conventional and organic grain farmers suggest market outlet most influences C stewardship. The number of samples needed to verify C sequestration targets by direct soil sampling is high and may temper interest in C markets; however, direct verification can reasonably be achieved by pooling data from multiple farms. Valorization-mechanisms and cooperative efforts lower costs and help individuals address large-scale issues like climate change and indirectly influence unwanted impacts of farm-size-expansion and competition for land, but do not consider benefits to family and community well-being that matter to farmers.
... O CNS pode ser considerado o estoque do solo capaz de assegurar a prestação de SE requeridos por um uso específico da terra, no qual as práticas de manejo sustentável são assumidas (Hewitt et al., 2015). Ele precisa ser definido e quantificado para que possa ser uma ferramenta usada para orientar o desenvolvimento de políticas e gestão de recursos da terra em escalas locais e global (Robinson et al., 2012;McBratney et al., 2014). ...
Full-text available
Os serviços ecossistêmicos relacionados ao solo e à água se destacam nas paisagens rurais, principalmente no que tange à produção agropecuária. Por meio das relações solo-água é que muitos serviços ecossistêmicos são gerados e relacionados aos processos de infiltração e recarga de aquíferos, escoamento superficial da água no solo, transferência de água para as plantas, provisão de alimentos, evapotranspiração, manutenção da umidade e biodiversidade dos solos, ciclagem e transporte de nutrientes, estoque de carbono e outros. O presente estudo realizou um levantamento na literatura, focando em metodologias para a avaliação de serviços ecossistêmicos de solo e água, na multifuncionalidade da paisagem rural e na diversidade dos serviços ecossistêmicos gerados, em políticas públicas correlatas e nas oportunidades e nos desafios relacionados à sua gestão. Também foram apresentados dois estudos de caso, desenvolvidos pelos autores, em que se realizou avaliação de serviços ecossistêmicos de solo e água em diferentes agroecossistemas na região sul (Paraná) e central (Rio de Janeiro) do bioma Mata Atlântica. Concluiu-se que, no Brasil, os métodos de avaliação e valoração dos serviços ecossistêmicos do solo e da água ainda precisam ser aprimorados e validados em diferentes escalas e que é preciso valorizar o papel dos produtores rurais para a conservação e manejo adequado dos serviços ecossistêmicos em agroecossistemas e na paisagem rural.
The dynamics related to land take depend on the interaction of two factors: soil quality and anthropogenic actions and strategies. Soil as “living system” plays an active role in the phases of interaction between the components of ecosystems. Meanwhile, the soil is exposed to intense and constant human-induced degradation processes. The aim of this paper is to quantify the impact of urban expansion on soil quality in a Mediterranean urban area (Rome, Italy). Over an examined area of 1500 km², urban areas increased by 5.9% per year (from 8.2% in 1949 to 36.6% in 2018). At that time, urban areas consumed high-quality soils in greater proportion compared to low-quality soils while croplands and forests progressively covered low-quality and partially degraded soils. Moreover, dispersed peri-urban settlements have been built in Rome on high-quality soils rather than in dense urban settlements, suggesting that the recent low-density urban expansion mainly affects soil quality and land resources. Those data show that sprawl consumes high-quality land at higher rate than compact growth, thus influencing the environmental quality of neighboring land. This case study, as an assessment and monitoring of soil quality over multiple timescales, is the basis on which any planning project can be built. It develops, in a scenario where, although significant progress in the analyses and assessments of land take has been achieved, it still appears as “open challenge” and it is not easy to work on a more effective decrease in land take and a consequent conservation of ecosystem functions and services.
Global population growth and associated socio-economic development have led to rapid urban expansion worldwide, with management implications for sustainable natural resources and societal resilience. Natural ecosystems and the services they provide are essential for societal mitigation and adaptation to adverse environmental consequences in urban areas. Mapping ecosystem services is a valuable tool in spatial planning for urban development, as it provides a deeper understanding of complex human-natural system interactions. This study analyzed and mapped two ecosystem services (local climate regulation and nutrient regulation), which play a key role in mitigating the impacts of local and global climate change in urban areas and of nutrient loads entering surface waters. The specific cases analyzed (Amsterdam city and the Netherlands as a whole) provided insights into opportunity pathways for adaptive development and management of complex urban environments and can support policy and decision-making processes for a sustainable and resilient future.
Full-text available
Soil functions and their impact on health, economy, and the environment are evident at the macro scale but determined at the micro scale, based on interactions between soil micro-architecture and the transport and transformation processes occurring in the soil infrastructure comprising pore and particle networks and at their interfaces. Soil structure formation and its resilience to disturbance are highly dynamic features affected by management (energy input), moisture (matric potential), and solids composition and complexation (organic matter and clay interactions). In this paper we review and put into perspective preliminary results of the newly started research program "Soil-it-is" on functional soil architecture. To identify and quantify biophysical constraints on soil structure changes and resilience, we claim that new approaches are needed to better interpret processes and parameters measured at the bulk soil scale and their links to the seemingly chaotic soil inner space behavior at the micro scale. As a first step, we revisit the soil matrix (solids phase) and pore system (water and air phases), constituting the complementary and interactive networks of soil infrastructure. For a field-pair with contrasting soil management, we suggest new ways of data analysis on measured soil-gas transport parameters at different moisture conditions to evaluate controls of soil matrix and pore network formation. Results imply that some soils form sponge-like pore networks (mostly healthy soils in terms of agricultural and environmental functions), while other soils form pipe-like structures (agriculturally poorly functioning soils), with the difference related to both complexation of organic matter and degradation of soil structure. The recently presented Dexter et al. (2008) threshold (ratio of clay to organic carbon of 10 kg kg-1) is found to be a promising constraint for a soil's ability to maintain or regenerate functional structure. Next, we show the Dexter et al. (2008) threshold may also apply to hydrological and physical-chemical interface phenomena including soil-water repellency and sorption of volatile organic vapors (gas-water-solids interfaces) as well as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (water-solids interfaces). However, data for differently-managed soils imply that energy input, soil-moisture status, and vegetation (quality of eluded organic matter) may be equally important constraints together with the complexation and degradation of organic carbon in deciding functional soil architecture and interface processes. Finally, we envision a road map to soil inner space where we search for the main controls of particle and pore network changes and structure build-up and resilience at each crossroad of biophysical parameters, where, for example, complexation between organic matter and clay, and moisture-induced changes from hydrophilic to hydrophobic surface conditions can play a role. We hypothesize that each crossroad (e.g. between organic carbon/clay ratio and matric potential) may control how soil self-organization will manifest itself at a given time as affected by gradients in energy and moisture from soil use and climate. The road map may serve as inspiration for renewed and multi-disciplinary focus on functional soil architecture.
This paper seeks to determine the identity of soil science by first establishing its origins in history. While soils have been of interest to humans since pre-historical times, and while scientific studies of soils began within the contexts of other sciences, systematic scientific studies of soils, hence soil science, began in the 19th century, initially with the aim of enhancing agricultural production. Such studies are now performed and required for other aims, among them environmental. The modern discipline of soil science has generally been divided into a small number of sub-disciplines, most commonly pedology, soil physics, soil chemistry, soil biology, soil mineralogy and often also, soil fertility. However, there appear to be three aspects of soil science that are unique to the discipline of soil science among scientific disciplines generally. These are: (i) the formation and properties of soil horizons, (ii) the occurrence and properties of aggregates in soil, and (iii) the occurrence and behaviour of soil colloids. The possibility that these aspects could be reduced to other sciences is dismissed because they can be explained more usefully at a larger size scale or by a more complex context than those belonging to more basic sciences such as physics or chemistry. Even so, some of their component parts may be more usefully reduced than is usually the case, e.g. inorganic colloids in soils may be better reduced beyond crystalline structures to their functional properties. The three unique aspects are considered to comprise a research tradition for soil science, which, due to their ultimate irreducibility, is constituted as a special science. These unique aspects cross sub-discipline boundaries so that both soil science and soils should be considered holistically rather than via the separate sub-disciplines through which they have often been studied in the past.
The unknown consequences and potential impacts of mankind's ability to destroy, alter, or manipulate ecosystems on a vast scale drives our need to better understand the earth system. A fundamental challenge for soil science in the 21st century is to understand the role of soil processes in relation to the function of the earth system. The rationale for developing a definition of sod natural capital stems from the premise that we value 'things' based on their perceived value to human well-being. As a consequence, ignorance of the value of a resource, or system, may lead to its neglect and omission from decision making. Therefore, there is a need to develop a definition of soil natural capital, fitting within a broad framework, which can be used to assess soil ecosystem services that contribute to the function of the earth system. Though various definitions of soil natural capital have been proposed, mostly in the agricultural context, it still remains a nebulous and ill-defined term. The objective of this paper is to develop an embracing definition of soil 'natural capital' focusing on (i) mass, (ii) energy, and (iii) organization/entropy. Mass is further subdivided into solid, liquid and gas phases, and organization into physicochemical, biotic, and spatiotemporal structure. We differentiate between two aspects of capital, the quantity and the quality. As a result of our definition, soil moisture, temperature, and structure emerge as valuable stocks, alongside the more traditionally viewed stocks such as inorganic (mineralogy, texture) and organic materials (OM content). We go on to demonstrate how natural capital fits within the ecosystem services framework, and how using integrated valuation and process based models it can be evaluated. Finally we discuss measurement and monitoring needs that fit with this vision of evaluation.
Erosion rates and annual soil loss tolerance (T) values in evaluations of soil management practices have served as focal points for soil quality (SQ) research and assessment programs for decades. Our objective is to enhance and extend current soil assessment efforts by presenting a framework for assessing the impact of soil management practices on soil function. The tool consists of three steps: indicator selection, indicator interpretation, and integration into an index. The tool's framework design allows researchers to continually update and refine the interpretations for many soils, climates, and land use practices. The tool was demonstrated using data from case studies in Georgia, Iowa, California, and the Pacific Northwest (WA, ID, OR). Using an expert system of decision rules as an indicator selection step successfully identified indicators for the minimum data set (MDS) in the case study data sets. In the indicator interpretation step, observed indicator data were transformed into unitless scores based on site-specific algorithmic relationships to soil function. The scored data resulted in scientifically defensible and statistically different treatment means in the four case studies. The efficacy of the indicator interpretation step was evaluated with stepwise regressions using scored and observed indicators as independent variables and endpoint data as iterative dependent variables. Scored indicators usually had coefficients of determination (R 2 ) that were similar or greater than those of the observed indicator values. In some cases, the R 2 values for indicators and endpoint regressions were higher when examined for individual treatments rather than the entire data set. This study demonstrates significant progress toward development of a SQ assessment framework for adaptive soil resource management or monitoring that is transferable to a variety of climates, soil types, and soil management systems.
This essay summarizes deliberation by the Soil Science Society of America (SSSA) Ad Hoc Committee on Soil Quality (S-581) and was written to spur discussion among SSSA members. Varying perceptions of soil quality have emerged since the concept was suggested in the early 1990s, and dialogue among members is important because, unlike air and water quality, legislative standards for soil quality have not been and perhaps should not be defined. In simplest terms, soil quality is "the capacity (of soil) to function". This definition, based on function, reflects the living and dynamic nature of soil. Soil quality can be conceptualized as a three-legged stool, the function and balance of which requires an integration of three major components - sustained biological productivity, environmental quality, and plant and animal health. The concept attempts to balance multiple soil uses (e.g., for agricultural production, remediation of wastes, urban development, forest, range, or recreation) with goals for environmental quality. Assessing soil quality will require collaboration among all disciplines of science to examine and interpret their results in the context of land management strategies, interactions, and trade-offs. Society is demanding solutions from science. Simply measuring and reporting the response of an individual soil parameter to a given perturbation or management practice is no longer sufficient. The soil resource must be recognized as a dynamic living system that emerges through a unique balance and interaction of its biological, chemical, and physical components. We encourage SSSA members to consider the concept of soil quality (perhaps as a marketing tool) and to debate how it might enable us to more effectively meet the diverse natural resource needs and concerns of our rural, urban, and suburban clientele of today and tomorrow.