Biodiversity and ecosystem function in soil

A. H. Fitter*, C. A. Gilligan, K. Hollingworth, A. Kleczkowski, R. M. Twyman, J. W. Pitchford

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

215 Citations (Scopus)


1. Soils are one of the last great frontiers for biodiversity research and are home to an extraordinary range of microbial and animal groups. Biological activities in soils drive many of the key ecosystem processes that govern the global system, especially in the cycling of elements such as carbon, nitrogen and phosphorus.

 2. We cannot currently make firm statements about the scale of biodiversity in soils, or about the roles played by soil organisms in the transformations of organic materials that underlie those cycles. The recent UK Soil Biodiversity Programme (SBP) has brought a unique concentration of researchers to bear on a single soil in Scotland, and has generated a large amount of data concerning biodiversity, carbon flux and resilience in the soil ecosystem. 

3. One of the key discoveries of the SBP was the extreme diversity of small organisms: researchers in the programme identified over 100 species of bacteria, 350 protozoa, 140 nematodes and 24 distinct types of arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi. Statistical analysis of these results suggests a much greater 'hidden diversity'. In contrast, there was no unusual richness in other organisms, such as higher fungi, mites, collembola and annelids. 

4. Stable-isotope (13C) technology was used to measure carbon fluxes and map the path of carbon through the food web. A novel finding was the rapidity with which carbon moves through the soil biota, revealing an extraordinarily dynamic soil ecosystem. 

5. The combination of taxonomic diversity and rapid carbon flux makes the soil ecosystem highly resistant to perturbation through either changing soil structure or removing selected groups of organisms.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)369-377
Number of pages9
JournalFunctional Ecology
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2005


  • carbon
  • bacteria
  • carbon flux
  • fungi
  • models
  • resilience
  • soil fauna
  • sourhope


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