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More Than Half of All Life Dwells in Soil

New research shows that 59 percent - double what was previously thought - lives beneath our feet.

Handful of soil

A recent analysis has found that soil - the top layer of the Earth’s crust - is home to more than half of all life on the planet, making it the single most species-rich habitat in the world.

The study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, is the first to tally the total number of dwellers underground, discovering that the new figure is double what was previously thought to be the case.

According to their findings, 59 percent of all species depend on this ecosystem for their survival, including 90 percent of fungi, 85 percent of plants, and over 50 percent of bacteria.

What’s more important than these numbers, however, are the functions that this biodiversity performs. The life within the soil not only helps to produce what we eat (it’s where 95 percent of the world’s food is grown), holds three times as much carbon as vegetation and twice as much as the atmosphere. This, obviously, is key to helping soak up the heat-trapping emissions that are driving climate change.

With this in mind, the analysis highlights the urgent need to protect soil, which has historically been left out of wider debates about nature protections because we know so little about it. At least, earnest discussions and tests about the remarkable power and importance of regenerative farming are underway.

‘Our study shows that the diversity in soils is great and correspondingly important, so they should be given much more consideration in conservation. Organisms in soil play an outweighed impact on the balance of our planet. Their biodiversity matters because soil life affects climate change feedbacks, global food security, and even human health,’ says author and ecologist, Dr Mark Anthony.


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