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The Soil Microbiome: Linking Soil Biodiversity to Soil Health and Ecosystem Services

Soil health plays a key role in many different areas of sustainable development, including poverty reduction, hunger eradication, economic growth and environmental protection.

Investigator(s)

Principal investigator: Kari Dunfield

What challenge does "The Soil Microbiome: Linking Soil Biodiversity to Soil Health and Ecosystem Services" address?

The global population is expected to reach 9 billion people by 2040, and agricultural systems are projected to expand their contribution to food, fuel, feed and fibre production. However, intensive agriculture can cause major environmental challenges so understanding the role of soil microorganisms is crucial to ensure we can sustainably produce enough food to feed a growing population.

How will this research address the challenge?

The goal of this research is to identify sustainable farming practices that ensure levels of agricultural production necessary to meet the growing world population’s demands while minimizing impacts on soil, air, water quality and human health. My research group uses molecular methods to study the microorganisms living in the soil to understand their influence on the quantity and quality of food production and how they regulate key ecosystem services, such as carbon sequestration, greenhouse gas emissions, and water quality.

What impact will the project have on agriculture?

The link between agricultural production and ecosystem services has an impact on society, since inappropriate land management practices impact the environment, through water pollution, biodiversity loss and greenhouse gas emissions. Furthermore, it is clear that the loss of some key ecosystem services, such as soil health, biological pest control and pollination, also directly impact agricultural productivity and may result in loss of farm income.

Some agricultural practices have been suggested to promote soil health, such as conservation tillage, cover crops, diversified crop rotations. However, there is still little evidence available linking above-ground diversity to below ground diversity, and it is unclear how shifts in biodiversity may impact both soil functioning and plant growth and health under sustainable agricultural systems such as those that incorporate diverse crop rotations and use cover crops. This study will identify agriculture management practices that promote soil biodiversity and soil health.

Key messages

Soil health plays a key role in many different areas of sustainable development, including poverty reduction, hunger eradication, economic growth and environmental protection. However, soil is rarely considered outside of an agricultural setting. In general, the public do not recognize that more than 95% of the world’s food is produced in soils, or that healthy soils are key to mitigating and adapting to climate change, reducing forced population migration, preserving biodiversity, providing clean water, achieving food security and improving nutrition.

Other information

Partners: A portion of this research is funded through a NSERC, Grain Farmers of Ontario and OMAFRA.

Collaborators and students: Mica Tosi (postdoctoral research associate), Travis Mazurek (MSc candidate), Kamini Khosla (Technician), Jon Gaiero (Research Associate).

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