New Resources on Soil Invertebrates from the Xerces Society

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By Kaitlin Haase with text adapted from Stephanie Frischie, Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation

Soil life is incredibly diverse, complex, and essential to soil health. While soil microbes and mycorrhizal fungi have received much attention as major biological elements of soil in recent decades, invertebrates such as insects, rotifers, and earthworms play critical roles in the function of soil from decomposition to aeration. The Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation is working to create comprehensive resources to inform farmers, land managers, and others about soil invertebrates and their roles in soil health.

Soil science—an incredibly rich, complex, and multifaceted academic discipline—has long recognized that Earth’s soils are a dynamic interaction of physical, chemical, and biological properties. Farmers, conservationists, scientists, and others fascinated by soils have started pushing us all to ask questions about what lives in the soil. For the first time, there is a nationwide conversation about the paramount importance of soil biology.

The ground beneath our feet contains an astonishing diversity of life from microscopic springtails and tardigrades to easily seen animals such as tiger beetles, a beneficial insect which eats crop pests as adults on the soil surface, and as larvae burrowed in soil.
Credit: Sarah Foltz Jordan

It turns out this biology question is key to many environmental and economic questions of our time. Increasingly, we understand that healthy soils are productive and resilient, ultimately sustaining abundant crops with fewer costly inputs down the road. For reasons that we are just beginning to understand, the biology of certain soils can also suppress plant diseases, much in the same way a healthy gut biome in people might help prevent human diseases. There’s also mounting evidence that we can harness the incredible root systems of plants and their microbial allies to store vast quantities of atmospheric carbon dioxide in Earth’s soils at rates that could help offset human-generated greenhouse gas.

In New Mexico and the arid Southwest, maintaining stable soils with high biological diversity is critical for ecosystem resilience as climate change continues to increase temperatures and cause more extreme droughts. And, as we continue to face a striking global loss of wild plants and animals, we are becoming more aware that soil is part of the fundamental ecology of all species—it provides a living platform for tigers and crickets, bacteria and bees, oaks and wildflowers, as well as the minerals that build not only the cells of those species but also our own.

Webinar: Soil Invertebrates

For future webinars in this series, watch the Xerxes Society events page!

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