Conference Overview: EuroScience Open Forum

Scientists & visitors celebrate soil biodiversity at
the European City of Science Festival, Manchester, UK.
Photo credit A. Orgiazzi

By Alberto Orgiazzi, European Commission Joint Research Centre and Tandra Fraser, University of Reading, UK


The EuroScience Open Forum (ESOF) is a biennial, pan-European conference dedicated to scientific research and innovation that brings together around 5000 researchers, policy makers, journalists and educators from around the world to discuss current and future breakthroughs in contemporary science. The 2016 edition of ESOF was held in Manchester, UK on 23-27 July.

The Global Soil Biodiversity Atlas made its Manchester debut as part of the European City of Science Festival (22-29 July 2016), which took place alongside the ESOF. A number of soil organisms made an appearance, as centipedes, millipedes, mites and earthworms ventured to St Anns Square to educate and stimulate interest in children and adults alike. Organized by Alberto Orgiazzi and Arwyn Jones of the European Commission Joint Research Centre, and joined by fellow soil ecology enthusiasts, Maria Briones (University of Vigo, Spain), Gerlinde de Deyn (Wageningen UR, the Netherlands) and Tandra Fraser (University of Reading, UK). 

As part of the Allotment of the Future space, we were surrounded by other exhibits put together by scientists, growers and food experts with displays on growing food with hydroponics, making fermented superfood, edible insects, soil testing and much more. We were also able to check out some science and technology close by, including the Mars Rover competition, nanoscale adventures and graphene, just to name a few of the other intriguing displays around the city.

Rooted between the profiles of a Podzol and a Chernozemic soil, researchers from around Europe shared their enthusiasm for soil organisms with many passing visitors. Photo courtesy of A. Orgiazzi.

Science in the City was a soil biodiversity success as we were able to give children and adults alike a little insight into the tiny organisms that live beneath our feet. We also gave away some atlases for a few lucky ones to continue reading at home.

The European Commission’s Joint Research Centre (JRC) organised a session on the subject of soil biodiversity and its relevance to terrestrial ecosystem services. Entitled ‘No soil, no life’, the session was the only soil themed event of the entire conference and served as the European launch event of the Global Soil Biodiversity Atlas. The session was moderated by Arwyn Jones and included presentations by Prof. Richard Bardgett (University of Manchester, UK) who summarised the links between soil biodiversity and ecosystem services, Alberto Orgiazzi (JRC) who described the Atlas, Prof. Maria Briones (University of Vigo, Spain) who outlined the range of organisms living in the soil and their associated functions, and Dr. Gerlinde De Deyn (Wageningen University, The Netherlands), who described the broad range of threats to soil organisms and potential interventions to protect them.

The presentations stimulated a number of pertinent questions, press interviews and bilateral discussions. Also, the attendees were excited to get their own copy of the atlas at the end of the session.  And vice versa, it was satisfying to see people going around the conference with an atlas under their arms or popping up from their backpacks.

Brian Cox holding Global Soil Biodiversity Atlas.
Photo credit A. Orgiazzi

The soil biodiversity team also worked to give a voice to soil organisms. We offered a copy of the Global Soil Biodiversity Atlas to Carlos Moedas, the EU Commissioner for Research, Innovation and Science. Another interesting encounter was the brief meeting with Brian Cox, who as Professor of Theoretical Physics and Cosmology at the University of Manchester and presenter of science programmes for the BBC, was the public face of the ESOF Conference. In UK he is well know since he has been appointed by David Attenborough as his successor to take over the BBC natural history documentaries. He informed us that one of his next television series will be on the microscopic world, with specific interest on soil organisms. He was presented with a copy of the Global Soil Biodiversity Atlas and the JRC were requested to take contact to discuss the possibilities to collaborate further.

So be ready, soon you will have the chance to see soil creatures and the soil biodiversity on the big screen. Stay tuned!