It is not needed to be big to be great the Wageningen Soil Conference

You don’t have to be big to be great. The Biodiversity session of the Wageningen Soil Conference 2017 seemed to be centred around that statement. Soil biodiversity was introduced by two key-note speakers and the discussion continued by the speakers of the morning session, where species richness, functioning and services associated with soil biodiversity were explored. Researchers Gerlinde de Dey and Jana Barel extracted the main message of this event.

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De Deyn: Soil biodiversity atlas

Gerlinde De Deyn kicked-off. In her keynote presentation, she painted us soil life in all the facets described in the recently released Global Soil Biodiversity Atlas (free available online). Soil encompasses a world of scales, habitats, and living conditions of mind boggling variety, as vividly illustrated when De Deyn sketches parallels with our aboveground reality.

Kowalchuk: Niches in an immense diversity

Indeed an assortment of niches belowground harbour an immense diversity of soil life. George Kowalchuk replaced Maria Briones and zoomed in on soil microbial diversity. His keynote addressed the assembly rules of microbial soil communities. Most of the soil is empty, but plant roots represent hot-spots of resources. The work of his research team at Utrecht University illustrated microbial strategies to compete for resources and shape microbial communities.

Van Leeuwen: primary succession

Discussion on community structure development was continued by Jeroen van Leeuwen who showed how vegetation cover increased with primary succession but plant richness levelled off quickly along a glacial chronosequence in Iceland. Soil food web complexity, however, increased initially with successional age and structure stabilized after about a century.

Morriën: secondary succession

Next speaker Elly Morriën agreed with these findings in a chronosequence of grassland restoration (i.e. secondary succession) and added that shifts in community assemblages lead to functional changes which cannot be picked up by solely looking at biodiversity.

Soudzilovskaia: Mycorrhizal associations

The relevance of soil biodiversity for ecosystem functioning was also pointed out by Nadejda Soudzilovskaia. By studying the distinct plant-mycorrhizal associations in North and South America, she predicts that climate change will affect ecosystem functioning.

Kooijman: P-nutrition

Annemieke Kooijman compared abiotic and biotic drivers of plant P-nutrition in calcareous and acidic dunes and demonstrated that the two ecosystems differed in soil P-fractions as well as biological P uptake strategies. Besides natural ecosystems also agricultural soils rely on services provided by soil biodiversity. In a crop rotation experiment,

Barel: Selecting the right cover crops

Janna Barel found that growing winter cover crops leaves a legacy in the soil influencing the productivity of next crops. The biomass and nitrogen concentration of cover crops drive the legacy effects and can be influenced by selecting the right species in a cover crop mixture.

Bongiorno: the concept of soil quality

Lastly, Giulia Bongiorno discussed the concept ‘soil quality’ and how to quantify it. She proposed to measure the labile C fraction POXC as an integration of chemical, physical and biological soil quality indicators and as predictor of soil disease suppressiveness.​

Related publications:

Barel, J.M., Kuyper, T.W., de Boer, W., Douma, J.C. & De Deyn, G.B. (2017) Legacy effects of diversity in space and time driven by winter cover crop biomass and nitrogen concentration. Journal of Applied Ecology, DOI: 10.1111/1365-2664.12929.

Morriën, E., Hannula, S.E., Snoek, L.B., Helmsing, N.R., Zweers, H., de Hollander, M., Soto, R.L., Bouffaud, M.-L., Buée, M., Dimmers, W., Duyts, H., Geisen, S., Girlanda, M., Griffiths, R.I., Jørgensen, H.-B., Jensen, J., Plassart, P., Redecker, D., Schmelz, R.M., Schmidt, O., Thomson, B.C., Tisserant, E., Uroz, S., Winding, A., Bailey, M.J., Bonkowski, M., Faber, J.H., Martin, F., Lemanceau, P., de Boer, W., van Veen, J.A. & van der Putten, W.H. (2017) Soil networks become more connected and take up more carbon as nature restoration progresses. Nature Communications 8, 14349.

The experiments and concepts behind the other presentations will be published later.