Why should we care about soil biodiversity?

Last week a key group of soil biodiversity scientists arrived in Fort Collins with a bang despite a massive snowstorm. Delayed flights and cold temperatures couldn’t keep this group down; they were on a mission to develop a Global Soil Biodiversity Assessment/Atlas on the state of global soil biodiversity. Soil scientists are some of the most passionate people I’ve ever met and soil biodiversity researchers kick it up a notch. Soil biodiversity rarely appears in biodiversity assessments, which I believe fuels the desire to put in the extra hours and get educational resources, such as an Atlas, out to the public.

Every participant showed up ready to go for the opening session Tuesday morning, February 26 2013. Colorado State University (CSU) Vice-President and Provost Rick Miranda opened the session with a warm-hearted welcome. He offered full support for the collaborative effort and appeared to take pride in the fact that CSU is a central role in the efforts. James Cooney, the Vice Provost of International Programs, followed Rick. Impressively Dr. Cooney stayed for the entire morning sessions despite a busy schedule to learn more about soil biodiversity prior to moderating the lunch panel. The morning schedule followed with a series of talks--see agenda for full list. Notably during the coffee break many of the scientists mingled with persons attending the session not participating in the Workshop. The lunch panel discussion, “Global Science Policy and the Soils Challenge” was a huge success and ended with some questions remaining unasked; clearly there was a demand by the public for more information on soil biodiversity.
 
Once behind closed doors the scientists jumped right into the task at hand. A lively discussion on whether there should be an Atlas, Assessment, or both dominated the afternoon session. The debate featured a range of scientific perspectives with Dr. Luca Montanarella of the European Commission routinely reminding the group what they found the most effective aspects of the European Global Soil Biodiversity Atlas from a policy perspective– cool pictures. Ultimately the group agreed to produce an Atlas in three years, identified core topic areas, and discussed how to get the much-needed pictures.
 
Day two proved just as productive as day one. The scientists broke out into small groups to discuss the topic areas and potential outline. The consistent pattern of small breakout groups, entire group discussion, and breaks provided the needed rest after a super productive group sessions, re-energizing the scientists to come back to the table ready to work.
 
By Thursday, day three, we were so ahead we took a slightly longer morning break enjoying some videos on soil biodiversity. The scientists also submitted their top eight reasons why soil biodiversity is important, which we made into a word cloud that impressed everyone present. Surprisingly few scientists included biodiversity in their reasons but money ended up ranking high –heads up neglecting soil biodiversity may affect your pocket books!
 
I have attended several workshops over my career and can take a page from the effectiveness of these scientists. At first I had doubts on the three-year time frame outlined for the Atlas, but while tight, the timeline seems completely feasible in light of the GSBA Workshop. Participants stayed energetic and on task for the entire three days despite the jet lag and grueling schedule. While there were disagreements, for example on the role of maps in the atlas, ultimately everybody came to a common consensus regarding the final product. It will take a massive effort and dedication by all the scientists involved, but after what I saw, I think they are up for the task!
 
Stay tuned for progress updates and ways to get involved.
 
For more pictures of the event visit: http://www.globalsoilbiodiversity.org/GSBAW_Pictures
 
Barbara Fricks is the Project Director for the Global Soil Biodiversity Initiative. She worked as a science communication intern in Washington DC with the Soil Science Society of America, and is currently pursuing her PhD at Colorado State in Soil Microbial Ecology
 

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