The term ‘Soil health’ encompasses the wider ecosystem services provide by soil and therefore is a better criteria for the sustainable management of soil than ‘soil quality’, argues Mark Pawlett of Cranfield University one of the authors in an article for Microbiology.
He comments: “Soil quality and soil health are terms often used interchangeably without clear context or definition, providing greater clarity is both timely and important, given that the term tries to explain complex environmental systems and interactions to different stakeholders with different perspectives.”
Mark explains that soil quality is a narrower term used to define the ability of soil to deliver specific functions such as crop yield. Whereas, soil health can be used to encompass the living element of the soil, the microbiome, and the wider role within a sustainable ecosystem.
The researchers conclude that soil health is more useful for management and have developed the following definition; that recognizes that healthy soils are dynamic and able to adapt to environmental fluctuations to maintain their functional capacity.
Soil health can be defined as the capability of soils to deliver multiple functional traits required to maintain ecosystem stability
within environmental constraints.
Mark continues: “Disturbing soils by managing for one function often restricts additional functions of a given soil type, and thus soils become degraded with loss of critical soil characteristics such as organic matter and biodiversity.
“This is particularly apparent when the management strategy is at odds with natural processes.”
Moving forward the researchers see maintaining and improving soil health as being a more constructive way to assess the benefits of alternative cultivation such as regenerative agriculture and technologies such as biostimulants.
The full paper can be read in Microbiology: Redefining soil health Pawlett et al., Microbiology DOI 10.1099/mic.0.001030