Overall goal and scientific and technological objectives

The strategic goal of EcoFINDERS is to support European Union soil policy making by providing the necessary tools to design and implement strategies for sustainable use of soils, including:

  • Characterisation of the biodiversity of European soils and the normal operating range (NOR) according to soil types, threats, climatic zones and land uses.
  • Determination of relationships between soil biodiversity, functioning and ecosystem services.
  • Quantification of the economic values of soil ecosystem services.
  • Evaluation of the impacts of human activities on soil biodiversity, functioning and services.
  • Design of policy-relevant and cost-effective indicators for monitoring soil biodiversity, functioning and ecosystem services.

To reach this overall goal, the project will pursue the following:

Scientific objectives

  • Describe the diversity of soil organisms (microorganisms and fauna).
  • Decipher their interactions through trophic nets (subsequently called food webs).
  • Determine the role played by soil organisms in soil functioning and the delivery of major ecosystem services: nutrient cycling, carbon storage, water retention, soil structure regulation, resistance to pests and diseases, and regulation of above-ground diversity.
  • Assess the stability and resilience of ecosystem biodiversity against threats: soil erosion and physical degradation, decline in organic content, and soil contamination.

Technological objectives

  • Develop and standardise tools and procedures to measure microbial and faunal diversity.
  • Establish high-throughput molecular assays for assessing microbial and faunal diversity.
  • Customise functional tools and methods to determine the functional diversity of fauna.
  • Design, develop and establish a database aimed at mapping the European soil biodiversity and threats.

Economics and policy objectives

  • Establish cost-effective bioindicators to assess microbial and faunal diversity, their associated functions and the resulting ecosystem services.
  • Evaluate the economic added-value brought by these bioindicators in assessing the consequences of soil management policy for soil biodiversity and functioning.
  • Implement dissemination strategies to transfer the project result to soil stakeholders; notably but not exclusively regional, national and European policy-makers, and inform the general public about the issues associated with the sustainability of soil biodiversity.

The scientific content of the project is organized according to the figure:

The hypotheses

  • Changes in soil biodiversity efficiently and effectively indicate the direction and rate of changes in soil functioning and associated ecosystem services.
  • Identification of the corresponding bioindicators allows economic valuation of the observed soil functioning and resulting ecosystem services.
  • These bioindicators and economic valuation lead to appropriate soil management.

Scope of the project

  • Organisms: archaea, bacteria, fungi, protozoa, microarthropods, nematodes, oligochaeta.
  • Trophic webs including above- and below-ground biodiversity.
  • Ecosystem services: nutrient cycling, carbon storage and turnover, water retention, soil structure regulation, resistance to pests and diseases, regulation of above-ground diversity.

Study sites of the project

The environmental filters and soil threats considered by the project include:

The environmental filters and soil threats considered by the project include:

  • Soil type, climatic zone (Atlantic, boreal, continental, Mediterranean, Pannonian), and land uses (agriculture, forestry, meadow-grass).
  • Erosion, compaction, organic matter decline, and contamination.

To take into account these factors, the project will make use of:

  • Long-term observatories: Ireland, France, Netherlands and UK (Atlantic); Sweden (boreal); Sweden and China (continental), France and Italy (Mediterranean), Slovenia (Pannonian).
  • Highlands under specific land use will be taken in consideration through the land extensification series in the UK Chronosequence LTO.
  • National soil surveys: Countryside survey, and Environmental Change Network, UK; Crebeo, Ireland; RMQS, France; BoBi, Netherlands; BDF, Germany; BioSoil, Portugal; National Soil Survey, Soil Pollution Assessment and BioSoil, Slovenia.

Ecosystem services

Ecosystem Services are the benefits people obtain from ecosystems. These include provisioning, regulating, and cultural services that directly affect people and supporting services needed to maintain other services. Many of the services listed here are highly interlinked (primary production, photosynthesis, nutrient cycling, and water cycling, for example, all involve different aspects of the same biological processes).

The Millennium Ecosystem Assessment Framework depicting ecosystem services and derived constituents for human well-being.