In DepthBiodiversity

Spare a thought for the teeming ecosystem beneath your feet

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Science  11 Dec 2020:
Vol. 370, Issue 6522, pp. 1255-1256
DOI: 10.1126/science.370.6522.1255

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Summary

Reach down and scoop up some soil. Cupped in your hands may be 5000 different kinds of creatures—and as many individual cells as there are humans on the globe. It's a whole world of often overlooked biodiversity. Last week, on the eve of World Soil Day, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations released its first ever global assessment of the biodiversity in this underground world. Some 300 experts have pooled their knowledge and data to describe the diversity of these organisms, the roles they play in both natural and agricultural environments, and the threats they face. The report details how they boost crop growth, store carbon, and purify soil and water. Yet with each pass of the bulldozer or tractor, each forest fire, each oil spill, even the constant traffic of hikers along a popular trail, more and more soil organisms are being killed off. By compiling research on these subterranean ecosystems and how they affect visible ones, the report's authors hope to convince scientists, policymakers, and the general public to take steps to slow this loss.

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