Soil Health

Soils belong to the most densely inhabited and biodiverse habitats of our planet. Bacteria and fungi are the dominant organismal groups in soil. Nematodes are by far the most abundant animals, benefitting from the presence of plant roots, bacteria, fungi, insects and other nematodes as major food sources. Protists are main consumers of the bacterial and fungal community. Together these biota form the soil food web: a network of interactions that determines the biological functioning of soils. For decades, soils were considered to be too complex to study, but fortunately this is no longer true.

What is soil life good for? Well, it for instance makes that leaves that are shed in autumn do not pile up year over year, but rather are recycled. Soil life facilitates the cycling of essential nutrients such as nitrogen, phosphorous and iron, and offers it to plants in an easily usable form. It also facilitates the formation of soil particle aggregates, increases the water holding capacity, and stores an awful lot of carbon.

Plants - logically including crops - are benefitting from soil life and occasionally suffer from it. Soil life in agro-ecosystems should be considered as an asset, and it should be managed accordingly.

Research aims

Within this research theme we study and monitor soil life in full detail at multiple scales ranging from laboratory settings to field experiments. For this, we will supplement classical soil ecological tools with DNA and RNA sequencing technologies as well as bioinformatics. By doing so, we try to better understand the functioning of soil life per se, and - at the same time - we identify tools and handles to preserve and boost soil biota while benefitting from the services these biota can offer.