INBO Research Challenges

INBO brings soil biodiversity into focus

INBO aims to develop a knowledge centre on the state and evolution of soil biodiversity in Flanders and conduct multidisciplinary research on soil life under any type of land use. To this end, INBO will cooperate as much as possible with other scientific institutions, universities, nature organisations, working groups and government bodies.

Soil organisms drive many ecosystem processes, such as organic matter decomposition, soil formation, nutrient cycling, water purification and infiltration, and pathogen control. They ensure fertile soil, which is the basis for food production in agriculture, and resilient and species-rich natural ecosystems. Because there are virtually no long-term soil biodiversity data available for Flanders, we do not know the effect of land use, climate change or pollution on soil life communities and the ecosystem services they provide.

Through the EU Soil Observatory (EUSO), Europe aims to closely monitor the state and evolution of soil biodiversity to achieve the targets set out in the European Biodiversity Strategy and the European Soil Strategy. Legal initiatives with reporting obligations, such as the Nature Restoration Law and the Soil Monitoring Directive, are currently on the table to encourage member states to monitor soil biodiversity and report its status periodically. Flanders should also prepare to know, maintain and - where possible - promote the state of soil biodiversity. INBO has a central role to play in this.

INBO focuses on two objectives: (1) developing optimal data collection, management and accessibility of Flemish soil biodiversity and (2) visualising specific pressures on soil biodiversity.

For the first objective, we want to map soil biodiversity in Flanders using existing monitoring networks. By linking to long-term monitoring, we can establish direct links with physico-chemical soil quality, climate variables and the state and evolution of above-ground biodiversity. From this, we can also derive indicators for biological soil quality. Optimal data collection requires the deployment of appropriate sampling and processing methods. Innovative molecular techniques such as eDNA metabarcoding are indispensable to explore the gigantic species richness in our soils. For this, INBO wants to examine as many soil organisms as possible: from micro-organisms (bacteria and fungi), over mesofauna (nematodes, mites, springtails) to earthworms. The eDNA approach still needs to be fine-tuned. To this end, we select the most suitable primers, build sequence databases for taxonomic identification and develop high-performance bioinformatics.

After establishing a baseline condition by land use, we can estimate the pressures acting on soil biodiversity. Here we want to qualitatively and quantitatively estimate three types of 'pressures': effects of (1) land use and land use change, (2) climate change and (3) pollution.  Land-use changes, such as converting permanent pasture to cropland, can alter soil biodiversity, and our goal is to gain a deeper understanding of these dynamics. We also aim to identify suitable species groups as bioindicators of climate change.


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