Most people think of soil simply as something that grass, trees and other plants grow in and on.
But nothing could be further from the truth, says Dr. Augusto Zanella. Below in quotes, some key concepts gathered during an IUFRO Spotlight interview.
“Soils – in the forest and elsewhere – involve and affect ‘normal life’. They modify the air we breathe, they influence the climate, impact the food we eat and the water we drink”.
“Soil is not a substrate or a source of nutrients. It is a living matrix that sustains the functioning of every ecosystem”.
“It works like an efficient bank. It capitalizes energy and nutrients to be delivered for building and sustaining more complex and efficient ecosystems. It is a source of new materials, continuously generated from biodegradation and re-elaboration of dead structures”.
“A comparison between natural and anthropic soil systems revealed the importance of the biological structure of soil for understanding and managing how the soil functions. Anthropic soil is that worked by humans in a way to produce new characteristics that make it different from the original natural soil”.
“There is a connection between the soil and produced food qualities. There is a relationship between the type of agriculture and climate warming. There is a relationship between forestry, agriculture, soil and human development/health. And there is an interconnected soil in space, air, water and all living organisms.”
Dr. Zanella, of the University of Padua, Department of Land, Environment, Agriculture and Forestry, and Deputy Coordinator of IUFRO Working Party 8.02.03 – Humus and soil biodiversity, is one of the proponents of Humusica, a concept that looks at soil and soil research from a somewhat different perspective and seeks to provide an international and consistent soil classification system.
“It is a new concept of soil; more biological and connected to the process of natural evolution. It’s soil seen as the place of the endless recycling of structures that grow old and die. Life cannot exist without death. Soil is the conjunction that links the two.”
In a slight digression from the interview, 40-odd years ago, American writer and environmentalist Wendell Berry put it somewhat differently, but seemed to capture some of the essence of what Dr. Zanella and his colleagues believe when he said: “If a healthy soil is full of death, it is also full of life: worms, fungi, microorganisms of all kinds … Given only the health of the soil, nothing that dies is dead for very long.”
As part of this new concept of soil, it would be beneficial, Dr. Zanella says, to have a standardized vocabulary and classification system for humus forms. That would be of immense benefit to anyone who works with soil. And, on different levels, that’s pretty well everybody from policymakers to foresters, landscapers, farmers and weekend gardeners, he says.
To that end, he and his colleagues have produced a series of Humusica articles that, among other things, answer “three crucial” questions:
- What is soil?
- If soil has a biogenic essence, how should it be classified to serve such managerial purposes as exploitation or protection? And
- How can this soil classification be used for handling the current global change?
The Humusica papers are presented in the form of a field manual that is “a fundamental tool for assessing everything from land use to climate change,” Dr. Zanella says.
In addition to the publications, there is also a free iOS app – TerrHum – available through the iTunes App Store. It is a University of Padua app that allows the main content of the Humusica 1 field guide to be stored on a cell phone. With this app (an app that is compatible with non-Apple products is currently in development) it is possible to classify all non-submerged forest topsoils on the planet.
He reiterates that this is a new way of looking at soil. “By accepting a concept of soil related to the ‘planet Earth digestive system’, that involves microorganisms distributed everywhere, I better understand myself and the world in which I live.
For instance, I better understand why I should prefer agriculture that pays attention to the quality of the soil, because that has a crucial influence on the quality of the produced food, and human health depends on it.”
He adds that, given current global change conditions, soil – and how we humans handle it – will be critical to human survival. Climate change should be a top-of-mind concern, but there seems to be a general lack of consciousness to the danger.
“The current climate warming will probably be the first major trial that conscious humanity has to overcome in order not to perish. The soil will be a crucial resource in that survival process.”
This field manual and classification system (explained in 87 articles, arranged in three Special Issues) can help fight the adverse effects of global change by using the collected knowledge about the biodiversity and functioning of natural (or semi-natural) soil to reconstruct the lost biodiversity and-or functioning of heavily exploited or degraded soils, he says.
The Humusica articles are collected in the Applied Soil Ecology Special Issues Vol. 122 a, 122 b and 123:
Information about the Humusica project and publications can also be found on the webpages of IUFRO Unit 8.02.03 – Humus and soil biodiversity: https://www.iufro.org/science/divisions/division-8/80000/80200/80203/publications/
View all IUFRO Spotlights at http://www.iufro.org/media/iufro-spotlights/
A newly published study entitled Sustainable Forest Operations (SFO): A new paradigm in a changing world and climate, indicates that “climate change, as well as the increasing demand for forest products, requires a rethinking of forest operations in terms of sustainability.”
The study suggests that the SFO concept provides integrated perspectives and approaches to effectively address ongoing and foreseeable challenges while balancing forest operations performance across economic, environmental and social sustainability objectives.
This new concept emphasizes that forest workers’ ergonomics, health and safety, and utilization efficiency and waste management are additional key elements that enrich the understanding of the sustainability in SFO.
In addition, through the promotion of afforestation and reforestation, improved forest management, and green building and furnishing, the SFO concept further emphasizes the role of wood as a renewable and environmentally friendly material. Read more…
Many centuries ago, a Greek philosopher noted that change is the only constant in life.
And change is brought about, in many instances, through discourse.
Discourse has been described in part as: “an ensemble of ideas, concepts and categories through which meaning is given to social and physical phenomena…”
According to this definition, discourse refers to a particular set of related ideas, which are shared, debated and communicated using different formats.
Through various discourses, we can discover fresh information and be introduced to new and different perspectives. We are able to gain experience and insight. As a result, our thinking, our attitudes, and our approaches toward various issues can evolve and change.
Certainly the ways in which forests are viewed, managed and developed have changed as the discourses concerning them have evolved. Read more…
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City dwellers around the world could live healthier lives and see health care costs shrink simply by implementing better urban forest design, planning and management.
Recent innovative studies conducted in Canada and the U.S. show that trees remove air pollution – both gaseous and particulate pollutants – and this has a beneficial effect on human health.
And, while the concepts of trees scrubbing the air and cleaner air having beneficial effects are not particularly new, “the innovation derives from linking pollution removal by trees to human health in cities,” said Dr. David Nowak of the US Forest Service, and one of the authors of the studies. Read more…
“The portfolio of goods and services from forests is now very different to that two decades ago; yet there is a disconnect between the institutional framework and these new forms of forest use, leading to efficiency, equity and legitimacy deficits,” said Dr. John Innes, Dean of the Faculty of Forestry at the University of British Columbia, Canada.
The changes – from forest planting and forest harvesting and operations, to forest use and forest products – occur at different levels. Today, forests produce a complex array of products from forest ecosystem services to timber and bio-products.
Market values are increasingly being attached to forest ecosystem services and this is changing the value systems associated with forestry. Read more…
IUFRO Anniversary Congress Spotlight #56 – Environment vs. economy: Mapping the forest environmental frontier
To some, the forests mean combatting illegal logging and associated trade, avoiding deforestation and degradation, conserving biodiversity and protecting wilderness.
To others, the forests mean timber as a renewable raw material for uses such as construction and bioenergy, forest-based climate change adaptation and mitigation and transitioning toward a forest-based bioeconomy.
“These issues can be termed the global forest environmental frontier,” said Dr. Georg Winkel, Head of the European Forest Institute’s Resilience Research Programme in Bonn, Germany.
“All the issues are interrelated and relate to a global controversy that asks how we can keep and manage the world’s forests to satisfy both ecological and socio-economic needs now and in the future,” he said.
Dr. Winkel is coordinator of a session entitled The Global Forest Environmental Frontier – What has changed, what has remained unchanged, how will the future look? at the IUFRO 125th Anniversary Congress in Freiburg, Germany in September. Read more…
IUFRO Anniversary Congress Spotlight #55: Genetics research crucial to future forest health, adaptation, conservation and sustainable management
“The role genetics/genomics research can play in forest management is huge but, unfortunately, remains under-utilized,” said Dr. Om Rajora, Professor of Forest Genetics and Genomics at the University of New Brunswick, Canada.
“Genetics/genomics research can greatly assist the management of natural and planted forests by conserving healthy, productive, well-adapted and genetically diverse natural forest and developing high yielding tree varieties with desired traits for deployment in plantations,” he said.
Dr. Rajora is the organizer and coordinator of a session entitled Genetics and Genomics for Conservation, Climate Adaptation and Sustainable Management of Forests to be presented at the IUFRO 125th Anniversary Congress in Freiburg, Germany in September. Read more…
An increasing number of studies demonstrate that mixed forests can deliver many ecosystem services at a higher level than pure forests.
Today, however, less than 0.1% of plantation forests worldwide are made of mixed tree species. And, by the end of this century there is the potential for about 20% of the world’s forest area to be represented by planted forests.
“More efforts should be made to develop new mixed, planted forests,” said Dr. Hervé Jactel of the French National Institute for Agricultural Research. He is one of the authors of a new review, Tree Diversity Drives Forest Stand Resistance to Natural Disturbances, which reviews the relationships between tree diversity and stand resistance to natural disturbances, and explores the ecological mechanisms behind the observed relationships. Read more…
There’s a line in a song by U.S. singer-songwriter Dee Moeller that goes: “The wide open spaces are closing in quickly, from the weight of the whole human race…”
That line could well be the sub-title for a session to be held at the upcoming IUFRO 125th Congress in Freiburg, Germany entitled: Co-existence of humans and wildlife in changing landscapes and climate.
Current human population growth is causing an increasing demand for natural resources and a growing pressure for access to land which, among other things, affects wildlife habitat and the interactions between wildlife and humans, said Dr. Chabi Djagoun, of the Laboratory of Applied Ecology in Cotonou, Benin. Read more…
“We’re trying to avoid throwing the baby out with the bathwater,” said Dr. Jens Peter Skovsgaard of the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences in Alnarp, Sweden.
He was speaking about forestry operations and research and how change can be evolutionary rather than revolutionary. Dr. Skovsgaard is coordinator of a session entitled: Forestry “Classic” for the Future, at the IUFRO 125th Anniversary Congress in Freiburg, Germany in September. Read more…