Applying soil health indicators to encourage sustainable soil use: the transition from scientific study to practical application
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The sustainable management of land for agricultural production has at its core a healthy soil, because this reduces the quantity of external inputs, reduces losses of nutrients to the environment, maximises the number of days when the soil can be worked, and has a pore structure that maximises both the retention of water in dry weather and drainage of water in wet weather. Soil health encompasses the physical, chemical, and biological features, but the use of biological indicators is the least well advanced. Sustainability also implies the balanced provision of ecosystem services, which can be more difficult to measure than single indicators. We describe how the key components of the soil food web contribute to a healthy soil and give an overview of the increasing number of scientific studies that have examined the use of biological indicators. A case study is made of the ecosystem service of water infiltration, which is quite an undertaking to measure directly, but which can be inferred from earthworm abundance and biodiversity which is relatively easy to measure. This highlights the difficulty of putting any monitoring scheme into practice and we finish by providing the considerations in starting a new soil health monitoring service in the UK and in maintaining biological monitoring in The Netherlands.
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Copyright © 2018 The authors. This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited. (CC BY 4.0).
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