The Ecological Significance of Soil Formation

In order to understand the importance of soil in ecological processes, we need to recognize how much ecosystems, including human society, depend on soil for so many of its needs, and balance needs that might degrade soil with its uses that benefit society. In fact, all soil is used for something, whether that is the intensive production of food and fiber, or the preservation ofcritical ecosystems in areas where human use and even entry is restricted. The continued ability to maintain and set aside additional protected areas depends on the ability of the remainder of the production land area to produce the food and fiber that society requires. In human

Depth (cm) Soil horizons

Depth (cm) Soil horizons

Figure 1 Atypical soil profile showing O, A, B, C, and E horizons.

Figure 1 Atypical soil profile showing O, A, B, C, and E horizons.

societies where food availability is limited, it is often very difficult to maintain protection of the land inside of national parks and reserves.

Given the global extent of human impacts on the land through air pollution and global warming, no soil is truly shielded from the impacts of human activities. A consideration of and monitoring of soil 'health' and 'quality' is needed to track changes in soil function that might adversely affect soil uses. In the last 50 years, the efficiency of agriculture in producing much more food per unit area of land has allowed the consideration of protecting and restoring natural ecosystems even as the human population has greatly increased. In many parts of the world, soil has been degraded and agricultural systems have also been degraded or failed. Experience has shown that degraded landscapes can recover if people understand soil and allow natural soil-forming processes to proceed, and that recovery can actually be enhanced in some cases. A continued ability to further develop and protect natural systems will require us to better understand soil and soil formation, using natural soil processes as the basis for producing food and fiber, and increasingly as a source of energy that human society depends on without further degrading the soil resource.

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