What lies beneath? Researchers hardly know.
That’s the message of a new atlas describing the biodiversity of soil, to be released tomorrow (May 25) at the United Nations Environmental Assembly in Nairobi, Kenya.
Dirt, the authors say, is remarkably diverse. There are some 30,000 worm species squirming in the soil around the world, and 5 million species of fungi sending out thread-like branches. Soil even has its own microbiome containing at least a million bacterial species.
But scientists have hardly scratched the surface of this subterranean world. Only about a quarter of worm species, 6 percent of fungi and less than 2 percent of soil bacteria have been studied and categorized.
The new “Global Soil Biodiversity Atlas,” which is available for download at the EU bookshop, rounds up the knowledge researchers do have into one spot.
“For the first time, this atlas compiles our current global knowledge of the diversity below our feet from many, many disciplines about an underappreciated natural resource: soil and its biodiversity,” Diana Wall, a professor of biology and the chair of the Global Soil Biodiversity Initiative, said in a statement.
The atlas includes contributions, including photos, from more than 120 experts in 29 different countries. The organisms depicted range from the tiny (bacteria, unicellular protists) to the merely small (insects, springtails) to the relatively large (earthworms, moles). There are images of mushrooms in bright red, yellow and purple — and even some bioluminescent species.
The atlas also covers the interaction of people and soil, including a study of New York’s…