Soil Ecology
 What is Soil?
 Soil Organisms
 Our Research

Changes in Place and Time

Tree roots exposed above ground due to soil erosion
The soil in this area has eroded, leaving these tree roots exposed above ground

Soil organisms are much smaller than we are - their world is not the same as our world. The lives of soil organisms take place in miniature, in areas just a few millimeters across. This means that to study the soil environment and the organisms that live in it, we must look at the world as they do, and examine changes in the soil at very short distances.

Soil can also change greatly in time. Soil temperature varies daily and with each season. A sudden rainstorm can drastically change soil moisture in just a few minutes. To study how these quick soil changes affect soil organisms, we must study the soil regularly, over and over again.

Soil Damage

As you have learned, soil organisms and their environment are interconnected. But what if that environment changes? Damage to the soil has a tremendous impact on the soil ecosystem and the organisms that live in it.

Many different forces in the environment may damage soil, both natural and caused by people. These forces include erosion, pollution and various forms of soil degradation. When too much erosion occurs in a specific area, for example, the water washes away many of the nutrients in the soil. The few nutrients remaining in the soil are no longer enough to support the microscopic organisms in the soil, causing many of them to die.

Since these organisms are the ones that create more soil, there are no longer enough micro-organisms to decompose the organic materials in the soil. Because decomposition cannot take place in damaged soil, the soil does not regenerate. Once soil is damaged, it cannot be replaced. When soil is lost, the organisms that live within it suffer.

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Soil photo from Oustider Inside Estonia's photostream.