Soil and its sustainability

Healthy and productive soils are central to achieving a number of the 17 sustainable development goals adopted by the United Nations General Assembly this year. Soils sustain our food systems, filter and regulate the flow of freshwater, store vast quantities of carbon and support myriad organisms. But the world’s soils are increasingly under pressure from climate change, population growth and poor land management.

This collection brings together a selection of articles that explore soil in its manifold roles in shaping the Earth’s environment and human society. The make-up and management of soils, and their influence on human health and extreme poverty, are some of the topics investigated.

The United Nations General Assembly has declared 2015 the International Year of Soils to raise awareness of the life-supporting functions of soil.  We hope that the collection supports this aim and that the Year of Soils is a starting point for improved understanding, better protection and sustainable management of this precious resource.

News and Opinion


  • Nature | Perspective

    The potential of soils to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions has not been exploited; here we discuss and recommend research and technology developments to implement mitigation practices.

    • Keith Paustian
    • , Johannes Lehmann
    • , Stephen Ogle
    • , David Reay
    • , G. Philip Robertson
    •  &  Pete Smith
  • Nature | Perspective

    Careful management of nitrogen fertilizer usage is required to ensure world food security while limiting environmental degradation; an analysis of historical nitrogen use efficiency reveals socio-economic factors and technological innovations that have influenced a range of past national trends and that suggest ways to improve global food production and environmental stewardship by 2050.

    • Xin Zhang
    • , Eric A. Davidson
    • , Denise L. Mauzerall
    • , Timothy D. Searchinger
    • , Patrice Dumas
    •  &  Ye Shen
  • Nature Geoscience | Perspective

    Low soil fertility can limit crop productivity, which in turn constrains the ability of poor households to invest in improving soils. This self-reinforcing feedback can trap households in chronic poverty for years or even generations.

    • Christopher B. Barrett
    •  &  Leah E. M. Bevis
  • Nature | Perspective

    Instead of containing stable and chemically unique ‘humic substances’, as has been widely accepted, soil organic matter is a mixture of progressively decomposing organic compounds; this has broad implications for soil science and its applications.

    • Johannes Lehmann
    •  &  Markus Kleber
  • Nature | Perspective

    Soil biodiversity sustains human health and its loss can be mitigated by sustainable management.

    • Diana H. Wall
    • , Uffe N. Nielsen
    •  &  Johan Six
  • Nature Communications | Review | open

    Belowground soil biota play key roles in maintaining proper ecosystem functioning, but studies on their extinction ecology are sparse. Here, Veresoglou et al. review the risks to soil biota posed by global change, and highlight the technical challenges involved in identifying extinction events.

    • Stavros D. Veresoglou
    • , John M. Halley
    •  &  Matthias C. Rillig