Soil biodiversity and human health

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Soil biodiversity is increasingly recognized as providing benefits to human health because it can suppress disease-causing soil organisms and provide clean air, water and food. Poor land-management practices and environmental change are, however, affecting belowground communities globally, and the resulting declines in soil biodiversity reduce and impair these benefits. Importantly, current research indicates that soil biodiversity can be maintained and partially restored if managed sustainably. Promoting the ecological complexity and robustness of soil biodiversity through improved management practices represents an underutilized resource with the ability to improve human health.

At a glance


  1. Flow diagram illustrating the link between soil biodiversity and human health.
    Figure 1: Flow diagram illustrating the link between soil biodiversity and human health.

    Soil biodiversity is often negatively affected by the interaction between poor land management practices and drivers of climate change, both of which ultimately compromise ecosystem function and services that are essential for human health (control of pests and pathogens, production of nutritious food, cleansing water and reducing air pollution). Responses to reduced human health can in turn affect management decisions that govern land use and climate change.

  2. A conceptual framework illustrating how decisions on land use and management are linked to human health through the effect on soil biodiversity.
    Figure 2: A conceptual framework illustrating how decisions on land use and management are linked to human health through the effect on soil biodiversity.

    Soil biodiversity is strongly influenced by external drivers such as climate change and nitrogen deposition but also by land-use management. Land use such as agricultural intensification (left) can reduce the diversity and densities of beneficial organisms that control pests and pathogens, thereby negatively affecting the health of plants, animals and humans. Adopting less-intensive management practices (right) that enhance soil biodiversity can promote plant, animal and human health because the number of beneficial species will outweigh pests and pathogens. Moreover, soil biodiversity may help mitigate the impacts of external drivers of ecosystem functioning.


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Author information

  1. These authors contributed equally to this work.

    • Diana H. Wall,
    • Uffe N. Nielsen &
    • Johan Six


  1. School of Global Environmental Sustainability and Department of Biology, Colorado State University, Fort Collins, Colorado 80523-1036, USA

    • Diana H. Wall
  2. Hawkesbury Institute for the Environment, Locked Bag 1797, Western Sydney University, Penrith, New South Wales 2751, Australia

    • Uffe N. Nielsen
  3. Department of Environmental Systems Science, Swiss Federal Institute of Technology ETH-Zurich, Zurich 8092, Switzerland

    • Johan Six


D.H.W., J.S. and U.N.N. contributed equally to the planning and writing of the manuscript.

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