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Inra-coordinator of a scientific project to improve understanding of the biodiversity and functioning of European soils

Essential for its agricultural and environmental services, soil is subjected to multiple threats: erosion, salting, compaction, decrease in agricultural land... In Lusignan, Inra manages one of the five European observatories of the scientific project Ecofinders, established to characterise the biodiversity and biological functioning of European soils. From 15 to 19 October 2012, five French and Dutch research teams settled in the Melusine region to closely examine the soil.

Ingénieurs et scientifiques décident où effectuer des prélèvements de sol sur les 25 hectares du Système d'observation et d'expérimentation pour la recherche en environnement (SOERE) sur les prairies semées, à Lusignan. © inra, Christophe Maitre
By Inra Poitou-Charentes communications department
Updated on 08/29/2013
Published on 02/15/2013

What biodiversity can be found in a forest, meadow or cultivated field? Answer: Countless little animals such as earthworms or insects (1 to 5 tonnes per hectare), lots of mushrooms (3.5t/ha) and bacteria (1.5t/ha). In addition to this fantastic biomass, these organisms represent an enormous biodiversity of which the functioning contributes to the agricultural and environmental services provided by the soil: plant growth and health, decrease in the greenhouse effect due to carbon storage, biodegradation of toxic compounds in the ground contributing to the filtration of water, or even the prevention of floods due to water regulation.

Europe lacks information on soil biology

The European Commission wants to preserve soil functions, restore them if necessary, and avoid further degradation. However, to establish a policy for the sustainable use of soils, there is a need to know more about the soil biodiversity and its transposition to agricultural and environmental services according to soil type, soil use (meadows, forests or crops, permanent or temporary, with or without fertiliser) and the climate. The Ecofinders project, coordinated by Inra and with a funding of 7 million Euros from the European Union over 4 years (from 2011 to 2014), proposes to do just that.

Lusignan: one of 5 European environmental research observatories

Over 200 researchers from 10 European countries are working on soil samples collected from 85 locations in Europe, and on 5 long-term observatories representative of the different climates, types and use of European soils: Lusignan in France, Lancaster in England, Lamborn in Sweden, Veluwe in the Netherlands and Berchidda in Italy. The scientists evaluate the agricultural and environmental services provided by the soils and observe how the biodiversity contributes to these services. Two measurement campaigns are undertaken each year, in the spring and the autumn. In October 2012, Lusignan welcomed five research teams from Inra in Orléans, Rennes, Dijon and Avignon and the Netherlands.

Predict how the soils will evolve according to different parameters

In the laboratory, researchers will then adjust the temperature, humidity and biodiversity of the blocks of soil collected to evaluate the impact of these variations on the agricultural and environmental services provided by the soil. Once the project is completed, this will provide a frame of reference for interpreting the results of the biological analyses of the soil samples to diagnose the state of the soils, as well as elements for predicting the evolution of the soil biodiversity and services it provides according to different scenarios involving the climate and the soil management policy.

Scientific contact(s):