Like all creatures, soil organisms affect, and are affected by, their surrounding environment. Two factors that are critical for understanding soil organisms and their environment are the level of soil moisture and the temperature of the soil. To have a full understanding of how the soil ecosystem works, we must understand these factors.
Just as the outside temperature varies daily and seasonally, so does the temperature of the soil. A sudden rainstorm can drastically change soil moisture in a matter of minutes. Temperatures and moisture levels in the soil affect the activity of all soil organisms, thereby affecting the rate of soil decomposition.
Because soil temperature and moisture varies so greatly from place to place, and can change so quickly, soil ecologists must monitor at many different places, over and over again. As the What is Soil page described, many different study methods are available to soil ecologists. We are developing a new method, sensor networks.
Our sensor networks are able to continuously measure the temperature and moisture of soil at several study areas around the state of Maryland (more information about our study areas) - measurements that were once very expensive and difficult to make. These measurements let us track changes in the soil in both place and time.
Once we know these changes, we can combine that information with observations of soil organisms to better understand how soil organisms and the soil environment affect one another. This means that when soil changes, we can make better predictions the effects of these changes on soil organisms, helping us understand more about how human activities will affect the soil environment.