Global vulnerability of soil ecosystems to erosion

Landsc Ecol. 2020 Apr;35:823-842. doi: 10.1007/s10980-020-00984-z. Epub 2020 Mar 10.


Context: Soil erosion is one of the main threats driving soil degradation across the globe with important impacts on crop yields, soil biota, biogeochemical cycles, and ultimately human nutrition.

Objectives: Here, using an empirical model, we present a global and temporally explicit assessment of soil erosion risk according to recent (2001-2013) dynamics of rainfall and vegetation cover change to identify vulnerable areas for soils and soil biodiversity.

Methods: We used an adaptation of the Universal Soil Loss Equation together with state of the art remote sensing models to create a spatially and temporally explicit global model of soil erosion and soil protection. Finally, we overlaid global maps of soil biodiversity to assess the potential vulnerability of these soil communities to soil erosion.

Results: We show a consistent decline in soil erosion protection over time across terrestrial biomes, which resulted in a global increase of 11.7% in soil erosion rates. Notably, soil erosion risk systematically increased between 2006 and 2013 in relation to the baseline year (2001). Although vegetation cover is central to soil protection, this increase was mostly driven by changes in rainfall erosivity. Globally, soil erosion is expected not only to have an impact on the vulnerability of soil conditions but also on soil biodiversity with 6.4% (for soil macrofauna) and 7.6% (for soil fungi) of these vulnerable areas coinciding with regions with high soil biodiversity.

Conclusions: Our results indicate that an increasing proportion of soils are degraded globally, affecting not only livelihoods but also potentially degrading local and regional landscapes. Similarly, many degraded regions coincide with and may have impacted high levels of soil biodiversity.

Keywords: Belowground biodiversity; Ecosystem service supply; Mapping; Soil erosion; Soil protection; Temporally explicit.