Links4Soils Soil Ecosystem Services in the Alps

Soil is the basis of Alpine ecosystems; it is a fundamental natural resource especially in the vulnerable Alpine Region. Through the sustainable management and protection of soil, we enhance the sustainable management of the Alpine environment, considerably contribute to the performance and resilience of key ecosystem services, preserve biodiversity, and ensure the well-being of humans. Soil management and protection is provided for in the framework of the Soil Conservation Protocol of the Alpine Convention, which is aimed at safeguarding the multifunctional role of soil based on the concept of sustainable development.

Links4Soils project is focused on raising awareness of soils in the Alpine Region, reviewing the existing regional and national soil data, transferring knowledge and best management practices to policymakers, decision-makers, and other stakeholders, what was the driver to create a publication on soil ecosystem services in the Alps. It provides a sound basis for a better understanding of the benefits humans obtain from suitable management and protection of soils.

 

Soil Ecosystem Services

Ecosystem services are the benefits people obtain from the ecosystem (MEA 2005).
As an integral part of the terrestrial ecosystem, soils play a crucial role in the provision of a myriad of so-called soil ecosystem services:

 

Soil function. Source: FAO 2018

 

A conceptual diagram was developed by Adhikari and Hartemink (2016), which relates individual soil properties to soil ecosystem services.

 

 Source: Adhikari and Hartemink (2016)

 

Soil ecosystem services are vital components to all aspects of life and they support the production of ecosystem goods and services, such as:

  • Food, fibre, and energy provision
  • Water storage and purification
  • Neutralization, filtering and buffering of pollutants
  • Natural hazard regulation
  • Climate regulation
  • Archive natural and cultural phenomena…
The Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (MEA) categorise Ecosystem Services into four classes. Source: Metro Vancouver

Soils variety also allows a diversity of soil ecosystem services, which benefit not only humans but also soil biota and the surrounding environment.

In a mountainous environment, some services are in comparison to lowland areas of particular importance such erosion control or flood protection.

Since soil ecosystem services are based on Soil Functions and Soil Biodiversity, this section also holds further information on those topics.

The provision of soil ecosystem services relies on soil properties, processes and functions. Furthermore, healthy and diverse soils ensure biodiversity among soil biota (soil biodiversity), which in turn guarantees the provision of soil ecosystem services.

You can read more about ecosystem functions and services in a summary, written by Dr Edmundo Barrios (UN Food & Agriculture Organization).