What is Soil Ecology?

Haven Esme

Soil ecology is the discipline of examining the interaction between organisms in the soil. In essence, soil ecology answers the questions of how soil works, what nutrients are recycled in the soil, what lives in the soil, and what happens in the soil. This ecosystem is often invisible, so advanced scientific methods are used to make these discoveries.

Earthworms commonly live in the soil.
Earthworms commonly live in the soil.

Ecology also requires studying the interactions between abiotic and biotic aspects of the soil. The biotic aspects are the living things in soil, while the abiotic aspects are the non-living components. Soil sustains a large percentage of the earth's life, so there are countless nutrients that must be studied so that their positive impact on the ecological system can be increased.

Some ecologists study trees, which take nutrients from the soil.
Some ecologists study trees, which take nutrients from the soil.

There are chemical, physical, and biological components to soil, which makes it a mixture of minerals and organic matter. There is such an abundance of life that the discipline of soil ecology was created to examine this life as well as plant growth. Understanding soil is important to gaining knowledge in other plant sciences.

Soil ecology helps researchers better understand the plant sciences.
Soil ecology helps researchers better understand the plant sciences.

Soil ecologists are also interested in the numerous life forms found in the soil. Some of the life forms in the soil include bacteria, algae, fungi, earthworms, and countless insects. These life forms do not include the many plants that grow in soil. Animals that live in the soil are vital to the soil because, as they make their homes in the soil, they give humans and animals the ability to have clean water, air, and moderated water flow.

Soil ecology has been used for years to address many environmental problems, and plays a vital part in solving environmental issues. Environmentalists understand the synchrony that occurs in soil ecology and are also aware that it is soil that is able to sustain life. Some environmentalists become involved in activism to prevent deforestation, seeding grasslands, and other activities to maintain the integrity of the soil.

At the heart of soil ecology is the cycling of nutrients. Studying soil is particularly important for those who have a connection to the agricultural field. It is used to provide sustenance and nutrition for plants, and is the most integral part of the ecosystem.

Those who are in the field of agriculture are often concerned about how things like pesticides and herbicides interfere with soil ecology. When farming, agriculture chemicals are composed with a knowledge of how those chemicals will affect soil. By using soil ecology, agricultural advances can collaborate with the environment instead of harming it.

Drought can be devastating for organisms that live in the soil.
Drought can be devastating for organisms that live in the soil.

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Discussion Comments


@Fa5t3r - I actually think farming is worse for the soil in the long run because it can build up harmful chemicals. This isn't even a modern problem. It's been happening for thousands of years.

In fact, they think that one of the reasons the Roman Empire fell was because they had been irrigating their soils too much and drawing too much salt out of the earth with their well water. They ended up concentrating the salt in their fields without even realizing it and the crops began to fail.

There was no real way for them to know that, but we should really be able to do better with our modern knowledge.


@browncoat - Soils actually have really complex and fascinating ecology when you start breaking it down. There are so many things that happen under our feet that we never realize. It makes you look at a city in a different way, that's for sure. All that concrete doesn't do much good for the world when it kills off such an amazing resource.


I decided to do a science degree a few years ago and I thought I would probably end up doing something with zoology or the environment since I feel quite strongly about those issues.

But, once I was taking the low level courses I realized it all seemed to come back to the health of the soil. Ecosystems are so dependent on the composition of their soils and they can be ruined if they are matched with the wrong kind.

That is one of the many reasons that removing rainforest for cattle farms is so stupid. It doesn't even provide good soil and it gets exhausted after only a few years of grazing.

But if scientists can start to develop ways of regenerating that soil, then they could start to fix some of the damage we've already done as well as halting the ongoing problems.

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