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Title: Understanding and enhancing soil health: the solution for reversing soil degradation

Author
item Lehman, R - Michael
item Cambardella, Cynthia - Cindy
item Stott, Diane
item Acosta-Martinez, Veronica
item Manter, Daniel
item Buyer, Jeffrey
item Maul, Jude
item Smith, Jeffrey
item Collins, Harold - Hal
item Halvorson, Jonathan
item Kremer, Robert
item Lundgren, Jonathan
item Ducey, Thomas
item Jin, Virginia

Submitted to: Sustainability
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: 1/11/2015
Publication Date: 1/23/2015
Citation: Lehman, R.M., Cambardella, C.A., Stott, D.E., Acosta Martinez, V., Manter, D.K., Buyer, J.S., Maul, J.E., Smith, J.L., Collins, H.P., Halvorson, J.J., Kremer, R.E., Lundgren, J.G., Ducey, T.F., Jin, V.L., Karlen, D.L. 2015. Understanding and enhancing soil health: the solution for reversing soil degradation. Sustainability. 7(1):988-1027.

Interpretive Summary: Healthy soils are the foundation for maintaining production of food, feed, fiber, and fuel. Soils around the world are being degraded by development pressures and poor management. Improved management of soils can reverse soil degradation and ensure a productive future for this non-renewable resource. Management that improves soil health will mitigate degradation and loss of function by arable soils. We seek to improve recognition of soil health and to increase public and private research efforts that advance soil health globally. We define soil quality/soil health (which we consider to be interchangeable terms), characterize healthy soil resources, and relate the significance of soil health to agroecosystems and their functions. We examine how soil biology influences soil health and how biological properties and processes contribute to sustainability of agriculture and ecosystem services. We continue by examining what can be done to manipulate soil biology to: (i) increase nutrient availability for production of high yielding, high quality crops, (ii) protect crops from pests, pathogens, weeds, and (iii) manage other factors limiting production and ecosystem services. Next we look to the future by asking what needs to be known about soil biology that is not currently recognized or fully understood. Finally we make projections regarding which of the unknown factors could be addressed using emerging research tools.

Technical Abstract: This special issue of Sustainability documents both the magnitude and global prevalence of soil degradation and helps illustrate (1) various factors contributing to the problem, (2) its past and current impacts, and (3) projected consequences to humankind if degradation of our fragile soil resources is not reversed before our global population grows beyond 9.5 Billion. Our objective is to provide an optimistic strategy for reversing soil degradation by increasing public and private research efforts on the concept of soil health. We begin by defining soil quality/soil health (which we consider to be interchangeable terms), characterizing healthy soil resources, and relating the significance of soil health to agroecosystems and their functions. We examine how soil biology influences soil health and how biological properties and processes contribute to sustainability of agriculture and ecosystem services. We continue by examining what can be done to manipulate soil biology to: (i) increase nutrient availability for production of high yielding, high quality crops, (ii) protect crops from pests, pathogens, weeds, and (iii) manage other factors limiting production and ecosystem services. Next we look to the future by asking what needs to be known about soil biology that is not currently recognized or fully understood. This includes making projections regarding which of the unknown factors could be addressed using emerging research tools. We conclude, based on our perceptions of how new knowledge regarding soil biology will help make agriculture more sustainable and productive, by recommending research emphases that should receive first priority through enhanced public and private research in order to reverse the trajectory toward global soil degradation.