WP leader Mark Bailey (mbailey@ceh.ac.uk) CEH, UK.


EcoFINDERS WP1 will assess the range, extent and variation of soil biodiversity, measures necessary for predicting biological responses and resilience of soils to environmental change. Key objectives are to:

  • describe the biological diversity (microbes, fauna, plants) of key European soils
  • demonstrate the role and constraints of biodiversity in delivering specific ecosystem services
  • determine the spatial and temporal links between abundance and composition of soil communities
  • determine the relative range and distribution of soil biota in relation to soil properties and land use
  • characterise the functional diversity of key communities in respect of soil processes
  • test the assumption of a relationship between the scale of diversity and ecosystem properties
  • identify, quantify and assess the diversity and distribution of key functional genes (e.g. nitrification)
  • determine the link between soil trophic processes and above- and below-ground diversity, and
  • define the normal operating range for a given soil type within each climatic zone.


Work programme: WP 1 will use a range of standardised, high-throughput molecular and morphological methods to characterise the biological diversity, distribution, and function of soil organisms (micro-, meso- and macrofauna). These include: (i) characterisation of taxonomic diversity; (ii) characterisation of the diversity of functional communities and relevant taxa; (iii) assessment of abundance and distribution of functional genes; and (iv) assessment of trophic exchange and nutrient flux between above-ground and below-ground sub-systems. WP1 will decipher the relationships between soil and pedoclimatic characteristics, land-use and soil biodiversity, evaluate impacts and threats to soil biodiversity, and develop indicators of soil quality relating to productivity, stability, resistance and resilience needed to prevent tipping points or thresholds being exceeded where functions are lost. Outputs include the predictive evaluations of scale and range variation and evolution of soil biodiversity and functioning across European boreal, agricultural and grassland soils to investigate the relationship to climatic zones, and to define their Normal Operating Range. The EcoFINDERS partners are addressing these issues through national soil surveys (Crebo, Ireland; NSI, Scotland; RMQS, France; NSS, The Netherlands; the UK Countryside Surveys & Environmental Change Network). Specific tasks include:


Task T1.1. Taxonomic and genetic diversity of microorganisms:  This task includes relevant molecular microbial ecology and metagenomics approaches for analysis of microbial diversity, including archaea, bacteria, and fungi. Data will be used to determine the influence of geographic distance, land use and land management on community composition, and the effects of soil depth on diversity, function and rates of nutrient cycling with respect to resilience, turnover and migration and response to environmental change.


Task T1.2.  Diversity of microbial functional communities: This task will evaluate the normal functional biota and assess the impacts of environmental change and perturbation on diversity, nutrient flow (biogeochemical cycling), food-web structure and functional diversity. The task will focus on nitrifier and denitrifier populations using key genes involved in nitrogen cycling in soils, employing experimental and field systems (T1.4, WP2). Stable isotope probing (SIP) approaches will identify soil and plant-associated microbes that respond to 15N and 13C inputs. Data on diversity and function will inform models of soil function and resilience.


Task T1.3. Diversity of micro-, meso- and macrofauna: Phenotypic and molecular tools will be used to characterise faunal diversity and the distribution, abundance and response of key groups (protozoa, collembola, earthworms, enchytraeids, microarthropods, nematodes). Data will complement microbial analysis, and will be used to assess micro-, meso- and macrofauna as indicators of soil biodiversity (WP4).

Task T1.4. Linking above-ground diversity to soil organisms and soil processes: This task aims to explore linkages between soil biodiversity, vegetation composition and soil characteristics across different spatial scales. It will employ whole soil core mesocosms and field systems to investigate multi-trophic interactions and nutrient flux (carbon and nitrogen) from primary producers (plants) to primary consumers (microorganisms and meso and macrofauna) and between fungi and bacteria. Diversity and functional measures will be coupled with heavy isotope labelled substrates and SIP to track the fate of nutrients in respect of sequestration, trophic exchange and emissions to determine the normal operating range of soils (with WP2, WP3, and WP4). These experimental approaches will provide basic and comparative data essential for determining the capacity and resilience of different European soils to defined inputs.



EcoFINDERS will use standardised sampling and characterisation methods to exploit national resources available to the partners to analyse identified soil types, ensuring a unified approach and to facilitate data-mining and consistency. WP1 complements WP2 and will be informed by identification of analytical tools in WP3 and experimental systems (T1.4 and WP2) to develop reliable biodiversity indicators of soil quality and health (WP4). Findings will facilitate analysis of contributions of soil biodiversity to ecosystem services (WP4, WP5, and WP6).  The project will determine the role that biodiversity plays in soil functioning and ecosystem services delivery (e.g. water quality, soil formation, structure and stability, plant production, carbon and nitrogen cycling and storage, and greenhouse gas emissions) and will inform policy and decision makers developing the EU Soil Framework Directive.


Data from the different LTOs will be used to build up a database under MySQL/PHP. A user-friendly web interface with an access restricted to the consortium will facilitate the mining of datasets for further processing and analyses. These systems will follow INSPIRE protocols and build on the extensive experience of the partners in managing large data sets. Documentation and training courses will be provided to users. The soils metadata database will be handled by a single partner (CEH) who will also be responsible for the above mentioned documentation and training courses. Analyses of these metadata will identify the so-called Normal Operating Range of soil biodiversity and functioning for a given climatic zone and land use.