If I asked you to name a few things that all life on the planet couldn’t live without you could probably come up with some good answers: food, water, the sun, gravity. These are all great, but I bet you’d never think to say dirt.

Whether you’re playing soccer in the mud, walking on a trail in the woods, or mowing the lawn it’s easy to forget that soil is actually one of the things keeping us alive on this planet.

Did you know? Soil is composed of broken down inorganic material from rocks and decomposed/decomposing organic matter like tree limbs, leaves and dead insects.

Plants grow by obtaining nutrients and water from the dirt, but you might not be aware that soil possesses an incredibly diverse environment of its own. It is filled with organic and inorganic nutrients which aren’t just consumed by plants, but by microorganisms like bacteria and fungi as well. Just like plants, microorganisms are a food source for bigger creatures (i.e. insects) which, in turn are consumed by bigger creatures (i.e. birds) and bigger creatures (i.e. humans). In fact, soil forms the foundation of every food chain on earth and its health and conservation is of significant importance.

Did you know? Franklin D. Roosevelt was quoted in saying: “The nation that destroys its soil destroys itself. Forests are the lungs of our land, purifying the air and giving fresh strength to our people.

When litter is thrown on the ground, an oil leak occurs, or a gardener sprays pesticides on his flowers, the soil becomes overwhelmed with foreign chemicals. This interrupts the delicate biological balance of the soil. Soil can’t just provide nutrients to plants and microorganisms. It needs to get some back in return to stay balanced.

Did you know? Erosion is a serious threat to soil and can be caused by winds or water. It renders vast amounts of soil and nutrients unusable by sending them to the bottom of rivers and oceans.

Soil conservation is a combination of all methods used to combat the deterioration and depletion of soil by natural and man-made processes. Soil conservation practices are commonly used in forestry and farming. Some of these include:

  • Fertilizing with composted manure instead of chemical fertilizers
  • Conservation tillage: leaving one third of the soil covered with organic matter after planting, which helps hold current soil in place
  • Crop rotation: crops grown in a field are changed from year to year to avoid a build-up of pests that often occurs when a single species is continuously planted
  • Rotational grazing: livestock are moved to a new section of the pasture once the current section is grazed down
  • Conservation buffers: permanent vegetation such as trees or alfalfa are planted in strips to slow run-off from fields and prevent sediments and nutrients from reaching lakes or streams

When you consider the profound importance the dirt beneath your feet plays in the maintenance of biodiversity and life on this plant one can’t help but want to protect it.

Learn More!

Soil Biology

Soil Health

References:

http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/f/franklind396994.html

http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.com/index.cfm?PgNm=TCE&Params=a1ARTA0007544

http://www.agaware.org/soilconservation.pdf

Article first published June 29, 2011

Chris Langley

Chris is a graduate student at the University of Guelph where he studies molecular and cellular biology - more specifically the bioremediation of environments polluted by harmful pesticides and the detoxification of chemical warfare agents using bacterial proteins.  Chris obtained his undergraduate degree in microbiology and he's worked at Campbell's Soup Canada, in Toronto, developing new soups that are now on grocery store shelves (you might have tried some!).  Chris has also spent time at the National Research Council of Canada in Ottawa as an antibody engineer in search of a vaccine against the avian flu.  In his down time Chris likes to watch and read sci-fi movies and books, play piano/guitar, work on graphic design projects and write scientific articles for the general public.


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