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biological activity in soilBiodiversity and Habitat

Soil supports the growth of a variety of unstressed plants, animals, and soil microorganisms, usually by providing a diverse physical, chemical, and biological habitat.

The ability of soil to support plant and animal life can be assessed by measuring the following indicators:

Biological Activity Indicators including active fungi, earthworms, microbial biomass, potentially mineralizable nitrogen, respiration, soil enzymes.

Biological Diversity Indicators including habitat diversity and diversity indices for organisms such as bacteria, macro and microarthropods, nematodes, and plants.

What do plants, animals, and microbes need from soil?

Microbes need soil for:

Plants need soil for:

Animals and people need soil for:

All organisms need:

At a landscape scale, a variety of soil environments are needed to support a variety of plants, animals, and microorganisms. (Lists adapted from Yoder, 1937, and Cihacek, 1996.)

Diversity of soil and soil organisms

Each animal, plant, and microbe species requires a slightly different habitat. Thus, a wide variety of habitats are required to support the tremendous biodiversity on earth. At the microbial level, diversity is beneficial for several reasons. Many different organisms are required in the multi-step process of decomposition and nutrient cycling. A complex set of soil organisms can compete with disease-causing organisms, and prevent a problem-causing species from becoming dominant. Many types of organisms are involved in creating and maintaining the soil structure that is important to water dynamics in soil. Many antibiotics and other drugs and compounds used by humans come from soil organisms. Most soil organisms cannot grow outside of soil, so it is necessary to preserve healthy and diverse soil ecosystems if we want to preserve beneficial microorganisms. Estimated numbers of soil species include 30,000 bacteria; 1,500,000 fungi; 60,000 algae; 10,000 protozoa; 500,000 nematodes; and 3,000 earthworms (Pankhurst, 1997).


Cihacek, L.J., W.L. Anderson and P.W. Barak. 1996. Linkages between soil quality and plant, animal, and human health. In: Methods for Assessing Soil Quality, SSSA Special Publication 49.

Pankhurst,C.E. 1997. Biodiversity of soil organisms as an indicator of soil health. In: Biological Indicators of Soil Health. CAB International.

Yoder, R.E. 1937. The significance of soil structure in relation to the tilth problem. Soil Sci. Soc. Am. Proc. 2:21-33.