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Decision and Policy Analysis Research Area – DAPA

Soil Biodiversity: Invisible Heroes at CIAT

Earthworms

The EC just published a large report on Soil biodiversity: functions, threats and tools for policy makers prepared by a consortium formed by BIO Intelligence Service, IRD (Institut de Recherche pour le Développement) and NIOO-KNAW (Netherlands Institute of Ecology) on behalf of the Environment Directorate-General of the European Commission. Patrick Lavelle, Associate staff member posted by French IRD to CIAT substantially participated in the report.  http://ec.europa.eu/environment/soil/biodiversity.htm. A press release stresses the role of these “invisible Heroes” in the production of ecosystem services.

The TSBF-LAC group of CIAT has just installed cultures of one of these heroes: the very popular and widespread earthworm Pontoscolex corethrurus (see song text below) is reported to have stimulated upland rice growth up to 100% in experiments conducted in Peruvian Amazonia and improved tea quality by 15% in Chinese plantations while making these plants tolerant to parasitic nematodes by changing expression of stress genes. Their annual transformation of several hundreds T of soil per ha is a key mechanism for the provision of soil ecosystem services (hydric functions, C sequestration) although they need other elements of soil biodiversity (microorganisms, soil invertebrates with complementary functions) to fulfil this function.  When left alone in deforested soils of Amazonia deserted by many “decompacting” invertebrates, their huge work may drastically compact clay soils and threaten plant growth in pastures.

Fertilisation Bio OrganiqueThe culture will provide worms for inoculation in banana plantations of Quindio where the FBO (Fertilisation Bio Organique) patented technique (Ref. WO 98/03447 published  29/01/98) that associates endogeic earthworm inoculations with specific organic treatments will be tested. The ALTERBIO project (Alternatives Biologiques aux Pesticides) funded by the Colombian Ministery of Agriculture and the French Ministery of Environment aims to develop biological alternatives to the use of pesticides in banana plantations.

Press release

Brussels, 12 March 2010
Soil biodiversity: the invisible hero
Soils are home to over one quarter of all living species, yet Europe has no binding legislation to protect this precious resource. We depend on soil for food, fibres, construction materials, clean water, clean air, climate regulation, and antibiotics such as penicillin and streptomycin are derived from the soil.

Soil biodiversity is the driving force behind this productive capacity, but that diversity faces numerous threats. A new report published by the European
Commission suggests that mismanaging soil biodiversity could worsen climate change, jeopardise agricultural production and compromise the quality of ground water. The European Commission has been arguing for binding legislation in this area since 2006, but little progress has been made.

The Soil Framework Directive is once more on the agenda of the Environment Council to be held on 15 March.

Environment Commissioner Janez Potočnik said: “Soil is the invisible biodiversity hero. We rely on healthy soils for some of the most fundamental ecosystem services, and without them life on our planet would grind to a halt. We share our soils, so I am convinced of the need for common legislation in this area. I am therefore calling on Environment ministers to put in place a sound regulatory framework to protect this most precious resource, and ensure we use it wisely.”

A fundamental element
Soil is a living resource that provides numerous essential services, releasing nutrients in forms that can be used by plants and other organisms. When this recycling function is impaired, agriculture, forestry and ultimately all life on Earth is threatened.

The micro-organisms contained in soil contribute to water purification and help remove pollution and pathogens. The loss of this service would reduce the quality and quantity of ground and surface waters, increasing the risk of erosion and landslides in mountain areas, and of flooding in lowland areas.

Soil also contains the second largest carbon pool on the planet. The loss of soil biodiversity reduces the ability of soils to regulate the composition of the atmosphere, diminishing their role in counteracting global warming.

Soil organisms constitute a major source of chemical and genetic resources.
Antibiotic resistance develops fast, so the demand for new pharmaceutical products is almost unending, and soil biodiversity can be an important source. At present, only
1% of soil microorganism species are known.

Current threats to soil biodiversity
The diversity of soil organisms is under threat from inappropriate agricultural practices, over-grazing, vegetation clearing, forest fires and poor irrigation practices.
Land conversion, from grassland or forest to cropped land, results in rapid loss of soil carbon, which indirectly enhances global warming.
Urbanisation and soil sealing are a further threat, with concreting effectively killing the life in the soil beneath.

Existing policies related to soil biodiversity
Few countries have strong legislation to protect their soils, and at present no= legislation or regulation specifically targeted at soil biodiversity exists at international, EU, national or regional level. The Commission first presented a legislative proposal to protect European soils in 2006, with support from the European Parliament, but opposition from six Member States means that the proposal is currently blocked in Council. The Spanish presidency will attempt to re-launch the proposal at the Environment Council on 15 March.

For more information:
Report Soil biodiversity: functions, threats and tools for policy makers.
MEMO/06/341 on the Thematic Strategy for soil protection.
Soil web pages on Europa: http://ec.europa.eu/environment/soil/index_en.htm.

Song text (Musica y letra: Patrick Lavelle y Carlos Fragoso)

Lombricita perdida – Ranchera mexicana

Un dia en un pastizal del lindo Veracruz(1)
Nacio una lombriz, gordita y feliz
Se llamaba Pontoscolex corethrurus
Era endogea, lo habia leido en Bouché (2)

Pobre lombricita (ter) que hiciste de tu vida

Crecio muy rapido (3) , comiendo el suelo
Dia y noche cavando, siempre trabajando
No salia de noche, ni al baile ni al cine
Ni amores tenia, siendo partenogenetica (4)

Pobre lombricita (ter) que hiciste de tu vida

Un dia llegaron de la ciudad de Mexico
Los temibles lombricidos Isabel  (5) y Carlos (6)
Llevaban bandejas, tequila y palas
Mataban mucha lombriz para hacer su tesis (7)

Pobre lombricita (ter) que hiciste de tu vida

Ponto se acerco a ver que pasaba
En este pastizal, nunca pasaba nada
Encontró el tequila, lo probó, le gustó
Cayo en la botella, donde quedó de adorno (8)

Pobre lombricita (ter) que hiciste de tu vida

Aya en el pastizal, nadie fue llorando
La vida en el suelo no permite llanto
En el suelo quedaron unos turriculos (9)
Como fieles testigos de una vida de trabajo


[1] Lavelle, P., M. E. Maury, et al. (1981). “Estudio cuantitativo de la fauna del suelo en la region de Laguna Verde, Vera-Cruz. Epoca de lluvias.” Inst. Ecol. Publ. (Mexico) 6: 75-105.

[2] Bouché, M. B. (1977). Stratégies lombriciennes. Soil Organism as Components of Ecosystems, Ecology Bulletin (Stockolm). 25: 122-132.

[3] Lavelle, P., I. Barois, et al. (1987). “Adaptative strategies of Pontoscolex corethrurus (Glossoscolecidæ, Oligochæta), a peregrine geophagous earthworm of the humid tropics.” Biol. Fert. Soils 5: 188-194.

[4] Lavelle, P., I. Barois, et al. (1987). Ibidem…

[5] Barois, I. (1987). Interactions entre les vers de terre (oligochaeta) tropicaux géophages et la microflore pour l’exploitation de la matière organique du sol. Thèse Doctorat, Université Paris VI..

[6] Fragoso Gonzalez, C. E. (1993). Les peuplements de vers de terre de l’est et sud-est mexicains, Thèse Doctorat, Université Paris VI.

[7] Isabelle Barois : ca. 700 ; Carlos Fragoso : ca. 50 000.

[8] … aqui hay un lamentable error… el famoso gusano de magueye que adorna las botellas es una larva de Coleoptero.. y el se encuentra en el mezcal, no en el tequila….

[9]  heces de lombrices depositadas en el suelo y estabilizadas que forman los macroagregados del suelo

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