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The concept and future prospects of soil health

Abstract

Soil health is the continued capacity of soil to function as a vital living ecosystem that sustains plants, animals and humans, and connects agricultural and soil science to policy, stakeholder needs and sustainable supply-chain management. Historically, soil assessments focused on crop production, but, today, soil health also includes the role of soil in water quality, climate change and human health. However, quantifying soil health is still dominated by chemical indicators, despite growing appreciation of the importance of soil biodiversity, owing to limited functional knowledge and lack of effective methods. In this Perspective, the definition and history of soil health are described and compared with other soil concepts. We outline ecosystem services provided by soils, the indicators used to measure soil functionality and their integration into informative soil-health indices. Scientists should embrace soil health as an overarching principle that contributes to sustainability goals, rather than only a property to measure.

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Fig. 1: Soil fertility, quality, health and security.
Fig. 2: Soil-health and global-ecosystem services.
Fig. 3: Soil-ecosystem-services management.
Fig. 4: Soil-health indicators and relevance to assessments.
Fig. 5: Biological, chemical and physical indicators included in soil-health-assessment schemes6.

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Acknowledgements

J.L. acknowledges the Hans Fischer Senior Fellowship of the Institute for Advanced Study (Technical University Munich) and a TNC-ACSF project (Cornell University), D.A.B. the support by the Craig and Susan McCaw Foundation, I.K.-K. the support by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) in the framework of the funding measure ‘Soil as a Sustainable Resource for the Bioeconomy’ (BonaRes project), BonaRes Centre for Soil Research (FKZ 031B0516A; BonaRes, Module A) and M.C.R. an ERC Advanced Grant (694368) and the BMBF for the project ‘Bridging in Biodiversity Science (BIBS)’ (01LC1501A). Sincere thanks to Else Bünemann-König for sharing raw data.

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Lehmann, J., Bossio, D.A., Kögel-Knabner, I. et al. The concept and future prospects of soil health. Nat Rev Earth Environ 1, 544–553 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1038/s43017-020-0080-8

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