The unknown way global change impacts soil biodiversity and its ecosystem functioning

Published on
November 3, 2022

In an opinion article in the high-impact journal 'Global Change Biology' researchers from Wageningen University & Research (WUR) and Utrecht University (UU) sounded the alarm about our missing knowledge on how the relationship between soil biodiversity and ecosystem functioning is affected by global change. The lack of knowledge is concerning given that soils are the basis for human life and represent the most biodiverse ecosystems on the planet.

Lack of knowledge

Soil biodiversity is urgently needed to meet current and future global challenges. Biodiversity supports many essential ecosystem functions, such as food production, carbon sequestration, and nature’s contributions to people. However, global change drivers including climate change and land management threatens biodiversity and its role in providing many essential ecosystem functions.

WUR researcher Alejandro Berlinches de Gea is worried: ‘There’s a big lack of knowledge of the link between below ground biodiversity and ecosystem functioning. Especially studies exploring the relationship between soil biodiversity and ecosystem functioning as influenced by global change drivers remain scarce.’


In fact, an earlier study, done by other researchers, showed that only 0.3% of more than 17,000 sampling sites combined data on soil biodiversity and ecosystem functioning. Despite the important insights gained on the impact of individual global change drivers on soil biodiversity and ecosystem functioning relationships, individual drivers occur in synergy with others in a changing world. For instance, warming directly affects other climatic drivers, such as stimulating drought by accelerating water loss in soils (and CO2 levels by catalyzing the carbon cycle).

‘We know too little about how global change drivers interact.’ claims Berlinches de Gea, ‘In the ongoing climate change and increasing land use, many processes simultaneously affect soils and its functioning. If we had a better understanding of the impact of global change on soil biodiversity functions, we could better predict alterations of soil processes in a future climate and tailor our management and policies.’

Future research

The WUR researchers provide guidelines for optimized methodological and experimental approaches to study soil biodiversity and ecosystem functioning in a changing world that will provide more valuable information on the real impact of (interactive) drivers on biodiversity and ecosystem functioning. They highlight the need to decipher this relationship in soils to better understand soil functioning under ongoing global changes, as changes are of immediate importance for ecosystem functioning.

Alejandro Berlinches de Gea (WUR), Yann Hautier (UU), & Stefan Geisen (WUR): ‘Interactive effects of global change drivers as determinants of the link between soil biodiversity and ecosystem functioning.’ Global Change Biology’ (24 October 2022).