Next Article in Journal
Goal-Directed Travel in the Nocturnal Javan Slow Loris (Nycticebus javanicus)
Previous Article in Journal
Ecosystem-Based Adaptation Practices of Smallholder Farmers in the Oti Basin, Togo: Probing Their Effectiveness and Co-Benefits
Font Type:
Arial Georgia Verdana
Font Size:
Aa Aa Aa
Line Spacing:
Column Width:

The Role of Soils in Sustainability, Climate Change, and Ecosystem Services: Challenges and Opportunities

José Telo da Gama
VALORIZA—Research Centre for Endogenous Resource Valorization, Polytechnic Institute of Portalegre, 7300-555 Portalegre, Portugal
Ecologies 2023, 4(3), 552-567;
Submission received: 17 July 2023 / Revised: 4 August 2023 / Accepted: 14 August 2023 / Published: 16 August 2023


Soils are crucial life supporters and nutrient providers, their functionality impacted by their nutritional balance, pH, and organic matter content. These substrates help regulate water, support diverse organisms, and play a critical role in carbon sequestration, especially in the context of climate change. However, soils are under threat from anthropogenic and climatic pressures, warranting active resource management strategies. The European Union (EU) has acknowledged soil sustainability’s importance, encouraging eco-friendly agricultural practices and enhanced soil carbon storage. However, the criticality of soils is often overlooked when establishing global sustainable development goals. Counteracting soil degradation is key in battling desertification and influenced by factors like unsustainable agriculture, deforestation, and poor irrigation. Innovative solutions like circular economy approaches and sustainable biomass utilization are necessary to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Also, improving dietary habits and reducing food waste can help mitigate the environmental impact of food consumption, with a shift towards plant-based proteins being more sustainable. Addressing these challenges will contribute to a more sustainable and resilient future.

1. Introduction

Soils are the bedrock of terrestrial ecosystems, the crux of life’s intricate web, and an indispensable factor in our planet’s biogeochemical cycles. They are a vital natural resource underpinning almost every aspect of human life and ecological function [1,2]. Soils multifaceted role in supporting plant growth, regulating water flow, cycling nutrients, and hosting a vast array of biodiversity, forms the basis of our ecosystems [3,4]. Furthermore, soils act as carbon (C) sinks, playing an integral role in climate regulation and mitigation of greenhouse gas emissions [5,6,7]. However, anthropogenic pressures and climate change impacts have instigated an alarming decay in the ecosystem services that soils provide, endangering planetary wellbeing. Yet, the complexity and importance of soils are often overshadowed by more visible environmental concerns [8,9,10,11].
In the modern era, soils have faced an unprecedented set of challenges stemming from human activities such as deforestation, industrial agriculture, urbanization, and pollution. These threats have contributed to widespread soil degradation, erosion, salinization, and desertification, impacting their ability to provide essential ecosystem services [3,12,13,14]. Such a scenario elevates the risks of soil erosion, desertification, and loss of biodiversity, with the negative effects reverberating through the planet’s ecosystem services and overall climatic conditions [2,15,16,17]. These challenges are compounded by the demands of a growing global population, expected to reach nearly 10 billion by 2050, necessitating a 70% increase in food production [17,18]. Balancing this demand with sustainable soil management is a critical global challenge. This alarming scenario has not gone unnoticed, and various international organizations and entities have initiated efforts towards sustainable soil management and climate change mitigation [19,20,21,22].
The United Nations (UN), recognizing the centrality of soils to our planetary health, declared 2015 as the International Year of Soils. The International Union of Soil Sciences (IUSS, founded in 1924), in its Vienna declaration (7 December 2015), acknowledged the significant role soils play in addressing the main environmental, health, social, and resource issues currently faced by humanity, then went further, declaring that we live in the International Soil Decade, the period between 2015 and 2024. Both the UN and IUSS underlined the necessity for a global impetus towards preserving this vital resource. Similarly, the European Union (EU) has increasingly integrated environmental considerations into its Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), and also backs initiatives such as the Green Deal and the Farm to Fork Strategy, promoting eco-friendly practices that enhance soil health and boost carbon sequestration [23,24]. Yet, despite the critical role of soils in fostering a sustainable environment, their importance is often overlooked in global sustainability agendas. For instance, the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), despite emphasizing environmental conservation, climate regulation, and sustainable land use on the SDG #15, fail to mention soils explicitly [25].
The EU has set objectives towards the sustainable management of edaphic resources, aiming for healthier soils, halted biodiversity loss, and an improved nutrient cycle by 2050 [26]. However, these efforts need to be amplified at a global level, considering the interconnectedness of Earth’s ecosystems [27]. The current food production and consumption patterns, for instance, are far from sustainable, as evidenced by the excessive dependence on animal proteins, leading to the disproportionate use of land and resources [28,29,30,31]. By exploring the intricate dimensions of soil health and its global implications, this paper aims to contribute to an academic dialogue that transcends traditional disciplinary boundaries. It seeks to foster a nuanced understanding of soils as not just an environmental concern but as a socio-economic, cultural, and ethical issue fundamental to our collective future.

2. Role of Soils in Ecosystem Services and Nutrient Cycling

Soils are the fulcrum upon which the wheel of life spins, facilitating vital ecosystem functions that nourish and sustain life on Earth. This chapter dives deep into the multifaceted role of soils in ecosystem services and nutrient cycling, encompassing both biogeochemical and ecological perspectives [17,32,33,34].
Soils form the bedrock of terrestrial ecosystems, supporting a diverse array of flora and fauna including a myriad of microorganisms that drive biogeochemical processes [35]. This biodiversity underpins the provision of ecosystem services—the countless benefits that nature provides to humans, often governed by soil properties such as texture, structure, and organic matter content [36,37,38]. Such services can be categorized [39] as follows: (a) provisioning services, referring to the tangible products derived from soils—food, fiber, fuel, medicinal plants, and more. As early as 2007, the World Bank estimated that over 2.5 billion people depended directly on agriculture for their livelihood, signifying the paramount importance of soil health in sustaining global food security [40]. This underscores the intricate links between soil properties, crop yield, and nutritional content, revealing a complex relationship that is increasingly understood [15]. However, unsustainable agricultural practices like over-cultivation and misuse of chemical fertilizers are gradually depleting soil fertility, jeopardizing future food production and leading to other unintended environmental consequences [15,41,42]; (b) regulating services, involving the control of ecological processes and systems. Soils play a pivotal role in water regulation, absorbing, storing, and purifying water through soil-water interactions that are influenced by factors like soil cation exchange capacity, porosity and land management [43], mitigating flood risks and ensuring the provision of clean water for human and ecological use [16,32,37,44]. Another key regulating service is the mitigation of climate change through carbon sequestration. Soil organic matter acts as a carbon sink, mitigating the effects of greenhouse gases, with the potential to be strategically leveraged through specific land use practices [6,45,46]; (c) supporting services, that maintain biodiversity and enable other ecosystem services such as nutrient cycling (fundamental to soil fertility), maintaining soil structure, and fostering biodiversity, a process involving complex interactions between plants, microorganisms, and soil minerals [47]; and (d) cultural services, encompassing the non-material benefits derived from ecosystems—spiritual enrichment, intellectual development, recreation, and aesthetic enjoyment.
Soils, with their rich biodiversity, contribute significantly to these cultural services (Table 1). They shape landscapes, influence local traditions and practices, and inspire artistic and spiritual endeavors, reinforcing a sense of place and cultural identity [48]. However, anthropogenic pressures and climate change are increasingly jeopardizing the provision of these ecosystem services. Soil degradation, characterized by nutrient depletion, loss of soil organic matter, and disruption of soil structure, is a pressing global concern. The interaction of these factors forms a complex web that exacerbates land degradation and hampers ecosystem resilience [6,11,42]. Changes in land-use patterns, deforestation, and poor agricultural practices are some of the leading causes of soil degradation, disruption of nutrient cycling, and adverse affects seen in biodiversity and ecosystem services. These processes are closely linked to broader socio-ecological systems, demanding an integrated approach to conservation and management [49].
Therefore, to safeguard our planet’s health and ensure the continued provision of these vital ecosystem services, we need to prioritize sustainable soil management. Policies and practices that foster soil conservation, reduce degradation, and promote the restoration of degraded soils, guided by an understanding of underlying ecological principles, should be at the heart of our sustainability agenda. In this way, we can ensure the continued role of soils in nutrient cycling and the provision of ecosystem services, securing a sustainable future for generations to come.

3. Soil and Climate Change

Climate change (Figure 1) and soils are intricately linked, each impacting the other in complex ways with soils now being recognized as both a victim and a critical tool in the battle against climate change. The interrelation between soils and climate change encompasses many facets, including carbon sequestration, water regulation, temperature modulation, and biodiversity support, each of which warrants more in-depth exploration [45].
Climate change’s impact on soils is multifaceted, with variations observed across different elevations and diurnal temperature patterns. Research in Northern Tibet’s alpine meadows reveals that warming affects soil bacterial and fungal community structures, with significant differences in fungal diversity observed at varying elevations [50]. Another study in Tibet’s alpine agricultural system found that nighttime warming significantly increased certain diversity estimators at specific soil depths, while daytime and daily warming did not. These effects were not additive, and different dimensions of soil fungal community diversity responded differently to climate warming [51]. These studies emphasize the complexity of a soil’s reaction to climate change and the need for targeted soil management strategies. Understanding these dynamics in alpine regions, where both elevation and diurnal temperature patterns can influence soil health, is crucial for fostering resilient ecosystems and sustainable agricultural practices.
As previously discussed, soils are massive carbon sinks, acting as key players in the global carbon cycle. They capture and store more carbon than the atmosphere and all plant life combined [45]. This process of carbon sequestration involves a detailed interplay of biological, chemical, and physical factors, and its potential to significantly decrease atmospheric CO2 levels cannot be overstated. The ability of different soil types to store carbon varies, with factors such as mineral composition, texture, land management practices, and microbial communities playing crucial roles [52]. Understanding these factors can guide soil management to enhance carbon sequestration.
Increasing the global soil carbon stock by a mere 0.4% per year could offset the annual increase in CO2 emissions, a figure that emphasizes the potential of soil management as a climate change mitigation strategy [53]. Practices such as cover cropping, reduced tillage, crop rotation, and organic amendments not only enhance the soil’s ability to store carbon but also contribute to overall soil health by promoting microbial diversity and organic matter stabilization [54]. Research is ongoing to optimize these practices to maximize carbon storage while sustaining agricultural productivity [55].
Conversely, changes in climate can affect soil health and function. As noted by the IPCC, rising global temperatures and altered precipitation patterns have pronounced impacts on the physical, chemical, and biological properties of soils [56]. Increased temperatures accelerate soil organic matter decomposition, leading to higher carbon and nutrient release rates [38]. These changes trigger feedback loops, releasing more greenhouse gases and contributing to further climatic changes.
Additionally, shifts in precipitation patterns can cause soil erosion and nutrient leaching, damaging soil structure, and fertility [15]. Such alterations extend beyond agriculture, affecting natural ecosystems, hydrological cycles, and even human health. Furthermore, these climatic changes can disrupt soil biota, with far-reaching effects on microbial activities and nutrient cycling processes [46]. The complex interactions of soil organisms, with their environment and each other, form a delicate balance that climate change can easily disturb.
The implications are vast and varied, affecting areas from crop productivity and food security to biodiversity and ecosystem stability. A comprehensive understanding is provided in the report “Soil Health and Climate Change” [57], exploring how climate change can instigate cascading effects on soil health in the broader ecosystem. Soils are not passive victims of climate change; they possess the potential to adapt and demonstrate resilience. This capacity is rooted in soil biodiversity, where a diverse range of organisms contributes to greater robustness and ability to recover [32,58,59].
Implementing practices to maintain and enhance soil biodiversity is crucial to sustain this resiliency and the soil’s multifunctionality [60]. Global collaboration and policy alignment is essential to ensure that these practices are adopted at the required scale. The interactions between soil and climate change are far-reaching, influencing social, economic, and environmental factors on a global scale [61,62,63]. With increasing climate-related risks and soil degradation, humanity faces a formidable challenge. The future may seem uncertain, but a resilient and sustainable path is attainable through diligent understanding, informed policymaking, and the application of sustainable soil management practices. By embracing these strategies, we can foster a more resilient ecosystem equipped to meet the challenges of our changing world.

4. Threats to Soil and Desertification

Soils have an integral role in our global ecosystems and the policies that guide their sustainable management; so, we must also consider the mounting threats soils are facing worldwide [17,64]. Central to these threats is the creeping menace of desertification, where land degradation makes soils increasingly infertile, typically owing to drought, deforestation, and inappropriate agricultural practices. Invariably, the health of the soil is fundamentally impacted, leading to loss of fertility and reduced agricultural productivity (Figure 2) [2,21,65,66].
At a global scale, land degradation and desertification threaten our capacity to achieve food security, maintain ecosystem health, and mitigate climate change. “The Global Assessment Report on Land Degradation and Restoration” from IPBES highlights that over 75% of the Earth’s land area is significantly degraded, and these lands are continually being affected by desertification [67]. The scenarios for the UNCCD Global Land Outlook further demonstrates how desertification directly influences socio-economic factors, impacting livelihoods and leading to displacement and migration [68].
Soil pH, a crucial indicator of soil quality, is influenced by both climate change and anthropogenic activities, leading to complex patterns of soil acidification and alkalinization. A study on the Tibetan Plateau from 2000–2020 revealed that climate change caused soil alkalinization at 0–10 cm and soil acidification at 10–20 and 20–30 cm, with varying effects depending on grassland type and soil depth [69]. In the Mediterranean basin, edaphic salinization, sodification, and alkalinization related to human pressures and climatic changes have been observed, threatening ecosystem sustainability. Analysis of irrigated soils in Portugal between 2002 and 2012 showed a significant increase in Ca2+, K+, and Na+ content, with pH increasing by 5%, indicating a trend towards alkalinization [15]. These changes in soil pH can have cascading effects on forage nutrient storages and microbial communities in alpine grasslands, as observed in studies conducted in Northern Tibet [70,71]. The interplay between soil acidification and alkalinization, driven by climate change and human activities, underscores the need for sustainable soil management practices that consider these complex dynamics. The findings also caution that the impact of radiation change on soil pH should not be ignored, and better edaphic management and conservation practices addressing the registered climatic changes in the area could be adopted [15,69].
Soils face several other threats alongside desertification. Erosion, loss of organic matter, compaction, salinization, landslides, contamination, and sealing are among the numerous issues plaguing soils [43,72,73]. Overexploitation, intensive farming, improper irrigation practices, industrial pollution, and urbanization contribute substantially to these threats, accelerating the degradation process. Among these threats, erosion is particularly pertinent. This natural process, accelerated by human activities, results in the removal of the fertile topsoil layer, affecting the soil’s ability to retain water, nutrients, and organic matter. The implications extend beyond agricultural productivity, affecting water quality and contributing to sedimentation in bodies of water [16,74,75]. Soil sealing, the covering of soil by impermeable materials, often caused by urbanization, is another significant threat. It results in the permanent loss of soil functions and degradation of habitats [76]. The EU has recognized this problem, setting a target of achieving no net land take by 2050 as part of the Roadmap to a Resource Efficient Europe [77]. All these threats underline the urgent need for sustainable soil management and restoration efforts. While these challenges may appear daunting, our understanding of these issues and our ability to mitigate them are continually improving. Consult Table 2 for a summary of the main edaphic threats and its potential solutions.
The integration of traditional knowledge with scientific research, the use of modern technologies, and the formulation of effective policies are all part of the path towards healthier, more resilient soils. Soil degradation, desertification, and the multiple threats to soil health present significant challenges to global sustainability efforts. But recognizing these threats and understanding their causes and effects can help us develop effective strategies to counteract them and protect our precious soil resources.

5. Soil Sustainability and European Union’s Strategies

As we delve deeper into the critical role of soils in ecosystem functioning and climate change mitigation, it becomes paramount to understand how international policies and strategies align with the sustainability of our soils. In this context, the EU strategic approach provides a compelling case study, which has been covered in detail in resources such as “Towards a global-scale soil climate mitigation strategy” [78].
The EU’s commitment to soil sustainability manifests in various initiatives and strategies, reflecting a holistic view that integrates environmental, economic, and social aspects. At the heart of the EU’s strategy is the recognition of soils as a non-renewable resource that provides vital ecosystem services. This vision underpins the central goal to protect and restore soil health and function across the region and forms a basis for initiatives such as regenerative agriculture, water management, and sustainable farming practices like organic farming, conservation agriculture, and agroforestry.
The European Green Deal [79], an ambitious set of policy initiatives proposed by the EU Commission, provides a strategic framework to achieve climate neutrality by 2050 [80,81]. It acknowledges the role of soil health in climate change mitigation, resilience of ecosystems, and the circular economy. Sustainable soil management is positioned as a vital component in transitioning to a carbon-neutral, environmentally friendly economy. It further recognizes that soils are crucial in achieving other sustainability goals, such as zero pollution, healthy and resilient ecosystems, and a transition to the future for all. One pivotal part of the Green Deal is the ‘Farm to Fork Strategy’ [82,83]. This plan aims to make food systems fair, healthy, and environmentally friendly. It recognizes that soil health is fundamental for sustainable food production. The strategy emphasizes the need to reduce the use of chemical pesticides, fertilizers, and antibiotics, practices which often degrade soil health. It also advocates for a significant increase in organic farming, which inherently values and promotes soil health.
The “EU Biodiversity Strategy for 2030” also highlights the significance of soil health. By restoring degraded soils and promoting soil organic matter, it aims to enhance biodiversity, carbon sequestration, and ecosystem services [84,85,86]. This strategy complements other aforementioned international goals, like the UN’s SDG #15, aiming to halt and reverse land degradation [87]. However, despite these ambitious strategies, challenges remain.
A European Environment Agency report highlighted that Europe is still facing severe soil degradation issues, such as erosion, loss of organic matter, and contamination [88]. The report further emphasized the need for effective implementation of these strategies, stakeholder engagement, and regular monitoring to ensure progress towards the set goals.
The EU’s commitment to soil sustainability offers a blueprint for other regions and nations. It reflects an understanding that sustainable soil management is not solely about conserving an environmental resource; it is a multi-faceted approach that links soil health to climate action, biodiversity conservation, and sustainable agriculture. While challenges persist, the EU’s strategies reflect a comprehensive, forward-thinking approach to soil sustainability that can guide global efforts in securing the health and resilience of our soils.

6. Sustainable Development and Food Production

The role of soils in ensuring global food security is intertwined with sustainable development, but it is threatened by various human activities and environmental changes [60,89]. The world’s population is projected to reach nearly 10 billion by 2050, requiring a 70% increase in food production [90,91,92].
Sustainable intensification advocates for increasing food productivity from existing farmland in a manner that reduces environmental impact and enhances resilience to climate change [93,94]. Practices like regenerative agriculture and water management, previously emphasized in the EU’s strategies, are critical here as well as a profound understanding of soil’s role in food production. Soil health, threatened by erosion, desertification, salinization, and climate change, is amplified by unsustainable practices that degrade soil health, jeopardizing our food systems [15] and a range of services crucial for agriculture [33,36,37,43,95].
The transition to sustainable farming practices that improve soil health is a critical step in mitigating these threats. Practices like organic farming, conservation agriculture, agroforestry, and crop rotation can enhance soil fertility, increase biodiversity, and improve the overall resilience of agricultural systems [84,96,97]. Regenerative agriculture, a farming method that aims to regenerate topsoil and restore biodiversity, offers a promising avenue for sustainable food production [98,99].
The EU’s Farm to Fork Strategy is a notable example of a policy approach aiming for sustainable food systems, setting specific targets, such as reducing the use of pesticides and fertilizers by 50% and ensuring that 25% of total farmland is organic farmed by 2030. Using this approach, the EU aims to balance the demands of food production with the need to preserve the environment [82,83].
Further analyzing the socio-economic aspects that can influence sustainable development and food production, one of the primary socio-economic factors is farmer education and extension services [100,101]. Knowledge about sustainable farming practices, soil health, and efficient water and nutrient management is crucial for farmers, and efforts should be made to make this knowledge accessible and practical. Financial incentives can play a significant role in promoting sustainable farming. Subsidies and financial support systems could be geared towards encouraging practices that maintain or improve soil health, such as the use of cover crops, crop rotation, and reduced tillage. These programs can help farmers transition towards more sustainable practices by reducing the economic risks associated with these changes [102,103,104]. Furthermore, advancements in aggrotech, such as precision agriculture, and the use of AI and machine learning in predicting soil health parameters and crop productivity, could be instrumental in achieving sustainable intensification goals. These technologies may optimize inputs, minimize environmental impact, and help manage the increasing uncertainty caused by climate change [105,106].
The intricate relationship between soils, sustainable development, and food production underscores the urgency of sustainable soil management and the necessity to shift towards more sustainable agricultural practices [107,108]. Although these challenges may appear formidable, innovative farming practices, scientific advancements, and comprehensive policy frameworks offer promising paths toward sustainable food production and soil conservation. These multifaceted approaches, encompassing policy, technology, and socio-economic aspects, can work synergistically to promote sustainable development and ensure global food security in the face of increasing populations and climate uncertainty. Finally, as we delve deeper in the next chapter, consumers also have an important role to play. Increased awareness about the environmental impact of food production can shift market demand towards more sustainably produced products [109,110,111].

7. Dietary Habits and Environmental Impact

The influence of soils on our lives extends far beyond agriculture and ecology. It impacts our dietary habits and, through them, our environmental footprint. Understanding this connection can offer novel insights into sustainability, climate change, and our food choices [78,112,113,114].
The food we consume daily is a product of complex global food systems, deeply entwined with the earth’s soils. The type of food we choose to consume, how it is produced, processed, transported, and wasted, has significant implications for soil health and the broader environment.
As underscored by Bajželj et al. [112], the increasing demand for animal-based products has resulted in an agricultural shift towards large-scale livestock farming. This shift has accelerated deforestation, biodiversity loss, and greenhouse gas emissions [115,116,117,118,119]. A key factor contributing to this problem is that these animal-based products often require much larger areas of land and greater energy inputs compared to plant-based alternatives [120,121,122]. However, changes in dietary patterns towards plant-based diets can mitigate these environmental impacts. For instance, the EAT-Lancet Commission’s report highlights that shifting towards diets rich in plant-based foods and low in animal-based foods can reduce agricultural land use and greenhouse gas emissions, while also improving human health. The concept of ‘Planetary Health Diets’ provides a powerful example of how diet adjustments can align human health and environmental sustainability [113]. These diets are nutritionally adequate and flexible, catering to local dietary preferences and agricultural systems, while also promoting diverse, plant-based diets that sustain our planet’s soils [123,124,125]. Promoting such dietary shifts requires action at multiple levels, ranging from individual choices to policy decisions.
Educational campaigns can raise awareness about the environmental impact of dietary choices, while food labelling and pricing policies can incentivize sustainable consumption. The EU aims to facilitate this shift by promoting sustainable food consumption, reducing food waste, and fostering a global transition to sustainable food systems [82,83]. It is essential to recognize that transitioning towards sustainable dietary habits is not just about individual choice but also about systemic changes in food production, supply chains, and policy frameworks. A key aspect of this systemic shift is the development of alternative, sustainable protein sources. Innovations such as plant-based proteins, edible insects, and lab-grown meat can play a significant role in reducing the environmental footprint of our diets [121,126,127]. However, realizing the potential of these alternatives requires overcoming various challenges, such as consumer acceptance, regulatory considerations, and technological hurdles. Research and development in food science and technology, along with targeted public education campaigns, may help address these challenges [109,128].
Food waste represents a significant issue in our food systems, contributing to unnecessary resource use and greenhouse gas emissions [129]. Reducing food waste can have a significant impact on improving the sustainability of our diets. Policies aimed at reducing food waste, along with consumer education and innovations in food storage and packaging, can play a key role in this regard [130,131]. Furthermore, addressing issues of access and affordability is crucial for promoting sustainable diets on a broad scale. Sustainable food options often remain inaccessible or unaffordable for many people, particularly those in low-income communities. Policies aimed at addressing these disparities, such as subsidies for sustainable food options and investments in urban agriculture, can help make sustainable diets a feasible choice for more people [132,133,134].
It is crucial to recognize that sustainable diets are not a one-size-fits-all solution. Cultural, regional, and personal preferences must be considered when promoting sustainable dietary habits. Integrating these considerations into dietary guidelines can help ensure that sustainable diets are culturally appropriate and widely accepted [135,136,137]. The transition towards sustainable diets involves multiple levels of change, from individual choices to systemic shifts in food production and policy [138].
Understanding the connection between dietary habits and soil health is a crucial step in promoting environmental sustainability. It emphasizes the power of individual choices, making it clear that everyone can contribute to environmental conservation and sustainability through their dietary habits [135,139,140]. By addressing these aspects in a holistic manner, we can contribute to soil health, climate mitigation, and overall sustainability while also promoting human health and wellbeing.

8. Perspectives

The findings of this review paper emphasize the critical role of soil in various global systems. Yet, they also present a complex picture that requires nuanced understanding and action before progress is achieved. While the EU’s strategies offer promising pathways toward sustainable soil management, their applicability in other regions may vary owing to differing cultural, economic, and environmental contexts. Furthermore, the shift towards more sustainable dietary habits, although beneficial, presents challenges in terms of cultural acceptance and practical implementation. The research also reveals gaps in our understanding of certain soil processes, underscoring the need for further investigation and innovative approaches. As we move forward, a flexible, collaborative, and context-aware approach will be essential in fostering sustainable soil management and ensuring the health and resilience of our global ecosystem.

9. Conclusions

The comprehensive role of soils in our lives and their profound impact on the ecosystem, climate change, sustainability, food production, and our dietary habits underscores the interconnected nature of global systems. This review paper has delved into these complex interconnections and emphasized the urgency to reevaluate and reform our approach to soil management. Soils form the foundation of ecosystem services and foster nutrient cycling, making it a cornerstone of biodiversity and human survival. The paper outlines how soils play a fundamental role in climate regulation, storing carbon and mitigating climate change impacts. However, this crucial resource is under threat from various factors, including deforestation, pollution, and unsustainable agricultural practices. As demonstrated through the exploration of the European Union’s strategies, there is an emerging global consensus on the need for sustainable soil management. This commitment manifests in policies like the EU’s Green Deal and Farm to Fork Strategy, which emphasize a holistic, sustainable approach to soil and agriculture. In addressing the threats to soil and counteracting desertification, the discussion focused on the importance of sustainable development for food production. Crucially, we explored how dietary habits influence soil health and environmental sustainability. The shift towards plant-based diets not only promotes health but also proves less taxing on our soils and environment. Overall, the paper reveals the potential for individual and collective actions to positively impact the health of our soils and, by extension, the planet. It is evident that sustainable soil management and conscious dietary choices are not just environmental issues; they are fundamental to our collective future. By fostering a better understanding of these interconnected issues, we can promote a more sustainable, resilient world. This paper encourages future researchers to build upon these findings, exploring innovative approaches to soil management, sustainable farming practices, and environmentally conscious dietary habits to ensure the longevity of our planet.


The author acknowledge the financial support of Fundação para a Ciência e a Tecnologia (grant UIDB/05064/2020).

Institutional Review Board Statement

Not applicable.

Informed Consent Statement

Not applicable.

Data Availability Statement

Not applicable.


This work was supported by national funds through the Fundação para a Ciência e a Tecnologia, I.P. (Portuguese Foundation for Science and Technology) by the project UIDB/05064/2020 (VALORIZA—Research Centre for Endogenous Resource Valorization). The author gratefully acknowledges Paul Costa for his insights and feedback.

Conflicts of Interest

The authors declare no conflict of interest.


  1. Dong, X.; Martin, J.B.; Cohen, M.J.; Tu, T. Bedrock Mediates Responses of Ecosystem Productivity to Climate Variability. Commun. Earth Environ. 2023, 4, 114. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
  2. Zheng, W.; Rao, C.; Wu, Q.; Wang, E.; Jiang, X.; Xu, Y.; Hu, L.; Chen, Y.; Liang, X.; Yan, W. Changes in the Soil Labile Organic Carbon Fractions Following Bedrock Exposure Rate in a Karst Context. Forests 2022, 13, 516. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
  3. Wang, X. Managing Land Carrying Capacity: Key to Achieving Sustainable Production Systems for Food Security. Land 2022, 11, 484. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
  4. Wijerathna-Yapa, A.; Pathirana, R. Sustainable Agro-Food Systems for Addressing Climate Change and Food Security. Agriculture 2022, 12, 1554. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
  5. Weil, R.R.; Brady, N.C. The Nature and Properties of Soils, 15th ed.; Pearson Prentice Hall: Harlow, UK; London, UK; New York, NY, USA, 2017; ISBN 978-1-29216-223-2. [Google Scholar]
  6. Rahman, S.; Ali, A.; Raihan, A. Soil Carbon Sequestration in Agroforestry Systems as a Mitigation Strategy of Climate Change: A Case Study from Dinajpur, Bangladesh. Adv. Environ. Eng. Res. 2022, 3, 1–13. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
  7. Li, H.; Wu, Y.; Liu, S.; Xiao, J.; Zhao, W.; Chen, J.; Alexandrov, G.; Cao, Y. Decipher Soil Organic Carbon Dynamics and Driving Forces across China Using Machine Learning. Glob. Chang. Biol. 2022, 28, 3394–3410. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
  8. Mansoor, S.; Farooq, I.; Kachroo, M.M.; Mahmoud, A.E.D.; Fawzy, M.; Popescu, S.M.; Alyemeni, M.N.; Sonne, C.; Rinklebe, J.; Ahmad, P. Elevation in Wildfire Frequencies with Respect to the Climate Change. J. Environ. Manag. 2022, 301, 113769. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
  9. Ahmad Rather, R.; Bano, H.; Ahmad Padder, S.; Perveen, K.; Al Masoudi, L.M.; Saud Alam, S.; Ho Hong, S. Anthropogenic Impacts on Phytosociological Features and Soil Microbial Health of Colchicum luteum L. an Endangered Medicinal Plant of North Western Himalaya. Saudi J. Biol. Sci. 2022, 29, 2856–2866. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
  10. De Girolamo, A.M.; Barca, E.; Leone, M.; Lo Porto, A. Impact of Long-Term Climate Change on Flow Regime in a Mediterranean Basin. J. Hydrol. Reg. Stud. 2022, 41, 101061. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
  11. Yang, G.; Ryo, M.; Roy, J.; Lammel, D.R.; Ballhausen, M.-B.; Jing, X.; Zhu, X.; Rillig, M.C. Multiple Anthropogenic Pressures Eliminate the Effects of Soil Microbial Diversity on Ecosystem Functions in Experimental Microcosms. Nat. Commun. 2022, 13, 4260. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
  12. Shen, L.; Cheng, G.; Du, X.; Meng, C.; Ren, Y.; Wang, J. Can Urban Agglomeration Bring “1 + 1 > 2Effect”? A Perspective of Land Resource Carrying Capacity. Land. Use Policy 2022, 117, 106094. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
  13. Devkota, K.P.; Devkota, M.; Rezaei, M.; Oosterbaan, R. Managing Salinity for Sustainable Agricultural Production in Salt-Affected Soils of Irrigated Drylands. Agric. Syst. 2022, 198, 103390. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
  14. Tilman, D.; Cassman, K.G.; Matson, P.A.; Naylor, R.; Polasky, S. Agricultural Sustainability and Intensive Production Practices. Nature 2002, 418, 671–677. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef] [PubMed]
  15. Telo da Gama, J.; Loures, L.; Lopez-Piñeiro, A.; Quintino, D.; Ferreira, P.; Nunes, J.R. Assessing the Long-Term Impact of Traditional Agriculture and the Mid-Term Impact of Intensification in Face of Local Climatic Changes. Agriculture 2021, 11, 814. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
  16. Francaviglia, R.; Almagro, M.; Vicente-Vicente, J.L. Conservation Agriculture and Soil Organic Carbon: Principles, Processes, Practices and Policy Options. Soil. Syst. 2023, 7, 17. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
  17. Cherlet, M.; Hutchinson, C.; Reynolds, J.; Hill, J.; Sommer, S.; von Maltitz, G. World Atlas of Desertification Rethinking Land Degradation and Sustainable Land Management; Publications Office of the European Union: Luxembourg, 2018; ISBN 978-9-27975-350-3. [Google Scholar]
  18. Tomlinson, I. Doubling Food Production to Feed the 9 Billion: A Critical Perspective on a Key Discourse of Food Security in the UK. J. Rural Stud. 2013, 29, 81–90. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
  19. Guterres, A. The Sustainable Development Goals Report 2020; United Nations, Department of Economic and Social Affairs: New York, NY, USA, 2020; pp. 1–64. [Google Scholar]
  20. Lal, R.; Bouma, J.; Brevik, E.; Dawson, L.; Field, D.J.; Glaser, B.; Hatano, R.; Hartemink, A.E.; Kosaki, T.; Lascelles, B.; et al. Soils and Sustainable Development Goals of the United Nations: An International Union of Soil Sciences Perspective. Geoderma Reg. 2021, 25, e00398. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
  21. Shukla, P.R.; Skea, J.; Calvo Buendia, E.; Masson-Delmotte, V.; Pörtner, H.O.; Roberts, D.C.; Zhai, P.; Slade, R.; Connors, S.; Van Diemen, R. IPCC, 2019: Climate Change and Land: An IPCC Special Report on Climate Change, Desertification, Land Degradation, Sustainable Land Management, Food Security, and Greenhouse Gas Fluxes in Terrestrial Ecosystems; IPCC: Geneva, Switzerland, 2019. [Google Scholar]
  22. World Bank World Development Report 2020: Trading for Development in the Age of Global Value Chains; The World Bank: Washington, DC, USA, 2019; ISBN 1-46-481457-0.
  23. Runge, T.; Latacz-Lohmann, U.; Schaller, L.; Todorova, K.; Daugbjerg, C.; Termansen, M.; Liira, J.; Le Gloux, F.; Dupraz, P.; Leppanen, J.; et al. Implementation of Eco-schemes in Fifteen European Union Member States. EuroChoices 2022, 21, 19–27. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
  24. Latacz-Lohmann, U.; Termansen, M.; Nguyen, C. The New Eco-Schemes: Navigating a Narrow Fairway. EuroChoices 2022, 21, 4–10. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
  25. Morgera, E. SDG 15: Protect, Restore and Promote Sustainable Use of Terrestrial Ecosystems, Sustainably Manage Forests, Combat Desertification, Halt and Reverse Land Degradation, and Halt Biodiversity Loss. In The Cambridge Handbook of Sustainable Development Goals and International Law; Cambridge University Press: Cambridge, UK, 2022; pp. 376–398. [Google Scholar]
  26. Ueckerdt, F.; Bauer, C.; Dirnaichner, A.; Everall, J.; Sacchi, R.; Luderer, G. Potential and Risks of Hydrogen-Based e-Fuels in Climate Change Mitigation. Nat. Clim. Chang. 2021, 11, 384–393. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
  27. Redvers, N.; Celidwen, Y.; Schultz, C.; Horn, O.; Githaiga, C.; Vera, M.; Perdrisat, M.; Plume, L.M.; Kobei, D.; Kain, M.C. The Determinants of Planetary Health: An Indigenous Consensus Perspective. Lancet Planet. Health 2022, 6, e156–e163. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef] [PubMed]
  28. WHO. Sustainable Healthy Diets: Guiding Principles; Food & Agriculture Org.: Rome, Italy, 2019; ISBN 9-25-131875-1. [Google Scholar]
  29. Jarmul, S.; Dangour, A.D.; Green, R.; Liew, Z.; Haines, A.; Scheelbeek, P.F. Climate Change Mitigation through Dietary Change: A Systematic Review of Empirical and Modelling Studies on the Environmental Footprints and Health Effects of ‘Sustainable Diets’. Environ. Res. Lett. 2020, 15, 123014. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef] [PubMed]
  30. Fanzo, J. Healthy and Sustainable Diets and Food Systems: The Key to Achieving Sustainable Development Goal 2? Food Ethics 2019, 4, 159–174. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
  31. Eme, P.; Douwes, J.; Kim, N.; Foliaki, S.; Burlingame, B. Review of Methodologies for Assessing Sustainable Diets and Potential for Development of Harmonised Indicators. Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health 2019, 16, 1184. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef] [PubMed]
  32. Marín-Sanleandro, P.; Gómez-García, A.M.; Blanco-Bernardeau, A.; Gil-Vázquez, J.M.; Alías-Linares, M.A. Influence of the Type and Use of Soil on the Distribution of Organic Carbon and Other Soil Properties in a Sustainable and Resilient Agropolitan System. Forests 2023, 14, 1085. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
  33. Darouich, H.; Ramos, T.B.; Pereira, L.S.; Rabino, D.; Bagagiolo, G.; Capello, G.; Simionesei, L.; Cavallo, E.; Biddoccu, M. Water Use and Soil Water Balance of Mediterranean Vineyards under Rainfed and Drip Irrigation Management: Evapotranspiration Partition and Soil Management Modelling for Resource Conservation. Water 2022, 14, 554. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
  34. Zhu, J.; Wang, Q.; Qi, W.; Zhao, X.; Xu, Y.; Sun, Y.; Zhang, D.; Zhou, X.; Mak-Mensah, E. Exploring the Potential of Biochar and Mulched Drip Irrigation with Plastic Film on Crop Yields in Water-Stressed Regions: A Global Meta-Analysis. J. Soil. Sci. Plant Nutr. 2023. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
  35. Ramírez, M.; López-Piñeiro, A.; Peña, D.; Rato Nunes, J.; Albarrán, Á.; Muñoz, A.; Gama, J.; Loures, L. Seasonal and Interannual Fluctuation of the Microbial Soil Community in a Maize Field under Long-Term Conservation Agriculture Management. Sustainability 2017, 9, 778. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
  36. Mace, G.M.; Norris, K.; Fitter, A.H. Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services: A Multilayered Relationship. Trends Ecol. Evol. 2012, 27, 19–26. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
  37. Kaletová, T.; Loures, L.; Castanho, R.A.; Aydin, E.; da Gama, J.T.; Loures, A.; Truchy, A. Relevance of Intermittent Rivers and Streams in Agricultural Landscape and Their Impact on Provided Ecosystem Services—A Mediterranean Case Study. Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health 2019, 16, 2693. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
  38. Telo da Gama, J.; Rato Nunes, J.; Loures, L.; Lopez Piñeiro, A.; Vivas, P. Assessing Spatial and Temporal Variability for Some Edaphic Characteristics of Mediterranean Rainfed and Irrigated Soils. Agronomy 2019, 9, 132. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
  39. MEA. Ecosystems and Human Well-Being: Wetlands and Water; World Resources Institute: Washington, DC, USA, 2005; ISBN 1-56-973597-2. [Google Scholar]
  40. World Bank. World Development Report 2008: Agriculture for Development; The World Bank: Washington, DC, USA, 2007; ISBN 978-0-82136-807-7. [Google Scholar]
  41. Kumar, A.; Burdak, B.; Thakur, H.; Harshavardhan, S.; Nalamala, S. A Review on Role of Micro Irrigation for Modern Agriculture. Pharma Innov. J. 2023, 12, 2585–2589. [Google Scholar]
  42. FAO. Status of the World’s Soil Resources: Main Report; FAO: Rome, Italy, 2015; p. 648. [Google Scholar]
  43. Loures, L.; Gama, J.; Nunes, J.; Lopez-Piñeiro, A. Assessing the Sodium Exchange Capacity in Rainfed and Irrigated Soils in the Mediterranean Basin Using GIS. Sustainability 2017, 9, 405. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
  44. Dominati, E.; Patterson, M.; Mackay, A. A Framework for Classifying and Quantifying the Natural Capital and Ecosystem Services of Soils. Ecol. Econ. 2010, 69, 1858–1868. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
  45. Lal, R. Soil Carbon Sequestration Impacts on Global Climate Change and Food Security. Science 2004, 304, 1623–1627. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef] [PubMed]
  46. Lacerda, N.B.D.; Lustosa Filho, J.F.; Blum, S.C.; Escobar, M.E.O.; Oliveira, T.S.D. Organic Matter Pools in a Fluvisol after 29 Years under Different Land Uses in an Irrigation Region in Northeast Brazil. J. Arid Environ. 2023, 208, 104861. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
  47. Bennett, E.M.; Peterson, G.D.; Gordon, L.J. Understanding Relationships among Multiple Ecosystem Services. Ecol. Lett. 2009, 12, 1394–1404. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef] [PubMed]
  48. Daniel, T.C.; Muhar, A.; Arnberger, A.; Aznar, O.; Boyd, J.W.; Chan, K.M.; Costanza, R.; Elmqvist, T.; Flint, C.G.; Gobster, P.H. Contributions of Cultural Services to the Ecosystem Services Agenda. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA 2012, 109, 8812–8819. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef] [PubMed]
  49. Montanarella, L.; Pennock, D.J.; McKenzie, N.; Badraoui, M.; Chude, V.; Baptista, I.; Mamo, T.; Yemefack, M.; Singh Aulakh, M.; Yagi, K. World’s Soils Are under Threat. Soil 2016, 2, 79–82. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
  50. Yu, C.; Han, F.; Fu, G. Effects of 7 Years Experimental Warming on Soil Bacterial and Fungal Community Structure in the Northern Tibet Alpine Meadow at Three Elevations. Sci. Total Environ. 2019, 655, 814–822. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
  51. Zhong, Z.; Fu, G. Response of Soil Fungal Species, Phylogenetic and Functional Diversity to Diurnal Asymmetric Warming in an Alpine Agricultural Ecosystem. Agric. Ecosyst. Environ. 2022, 335, 107993. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
  52. Lal, R. Sequestering Carbon and Increasing Productivity by Conservation Agriculture. J. Soil Water Conserv. 2015, 70, 55A–62A. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
  53. Minasny, B.; Malone, B.P.; McBratney, A.B.; Angers, D.A.; Arrouays, D.; Chambers, A.; Chaplot, V.; Chen, Z.-S.; Cheng, K.; Das, B.S. Soil Carbon 4 per Mille. Geoderma 2017, 292, 59–86. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
  54. Emde, D.; Hannam, K.D.; Most, I.; Nelson, L.M.; Jones, M.D. Soil Organic Carbon in Irrigated Agricultural Systems: A Meta-analysis. Glob. Change Biol. 2021, 27, 3898–3910. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
  55. Kane, D.; Solutions, LLC. Carbon Sequestration Potential on Agricultural Lands: A Review of Current Science and Available Practices; National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition Breakthrough Strategies and Solutions, LLC.: Washington, DC, USA, 2015; pp. 1–35. [Google Scholar]
  56. Masson-Delmotte, V.; Zhai, P.; Pirani, A.; Connors, S.L.; Péan, C.; Berger, S.; Caud, N.; Chen, Y.; Goldfarb, L.; Gomis, M.I. Climate Change 2021: The Physical Science Basis; Contribution of Working Group I to the Sixth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change; IPCC: Geneva, Switzerland, 2021; p. 2. [Google Scholar]
  57. Singh, B.P.; Cowie, A.L.; Chan, K.Y. Soil Health and Climate Change; Springer: Berlin/Heidelberg, Germany, 2011. [Google Scholar]
  58. Bakó, G.; Molnár, Z.; Bakk, L.; Horváth, F.; Fehér, L.; Ábrám, Ö.; Morvai, E.; Biro, C.; Pápay, G.; Fűrész, A.; et al. Toward a High Spatial Resolution Aerial Monitoring Network for Nature Conservation—How Can Remote Sensing Help Protect Natural Areas? Sustainability 2021, 13, 8807. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
  59. van Oijen, M.; Bellocchi, G.; Höglind, M. Effects of Climate Change on Grassland Biodiversity and Productivity: The Need for a Diversity of Models. Agronomy 2018, 8, 14. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
  60. Bélanger, J.; Pilling, D. The State of the World’s Biodiversity for Food and Agriculture; Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO): Rome, Italy, 2019; ISBN 9-25-131270-2. [Google Scholar]
  61. Goddard, L.; Gershunov, A. Impact of El Niño on Weather and Climate Extremes. In El Niño Southern Oscillation in a Changing Climate; Wiley: Hoboken, NJ, USA, 2020; pp. 361–375. [Google Scholar]
  62. Abbass, K.; Qasim, M.Z.; Song, H.; Murshed, M.; Mahmood, H.; Younis, I. A Review of the Global Climate Change Impacts, Adaptation, and Sustainable Mitigation Measures. Environ. Sci. Pollut. Res. 2022, 29, 42539–42559. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
  63. Leisner, C.P. Climate Change Impacts on Food Security-Focus on Perennial Cropping Systems and Nutritional Value. Plant Sci. 2020, 293, 110412. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef] [PubMed]
  64. Gomiero, T. Soil Degradation, Land Scarcity and Food Security: Reviewing a Complex Challenge. Sustainability 2016, 8, 281. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
  65. Khatteli, H.; Ali, R.R.; Bergametti, G.; Bouet, C.; Hachicha, M.; Hamdi-Aissa, B.; Labiadh, M.; Montoroi, J.-P.; Podwojewski, P.; Rajot, J.-L.; et al. Soils and Desertification in the Mediterranean Region. In The Mediterranean Region under Climate Change: A Scientific Update; IRD Editions: Marseille, France, 2016; p. 14. [Google Scholar]
  66. Spinoni, J.; Vogt, J.; Naumann, G.; Carrao, H.; Barbosa, P. Towards Identifying Areas at Climatological Risk of Desertification Using the Köppen–Geiger Classification and FAO Aridity Index. Int. J. Climatol. 2015, 35, 2210–2222. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
  67. Montanarella, L.; Scholes, R.; Brainich, A. The IPBES Assessment Report on Land Degradation and Restoration; Secretariat of the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services: Bonn, Germany, 2018. [Google Scholar]
  68. van der Esch, S. Exploring Future Changes in Land Use and Land Condition and the Impacts on Food, Water, Climate Change and Biodiversity: Scenarios for the UNCCD Global Land Outlook; PBL Publishers: The Hague, The Netherlands, 2017. [Google Scholar]
  69. Sun, W.; Li, S.; Zhang, G.; Fu, G.; Qi, H.; Li, T. Effects of Climate Change and Anthropogenic Activities on Soil PH in Grassland Regions on the Tibetan Plateau. Glob. Ecol. Conserv. 2023, 45, e02532. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
  70. Zha, X.; Tian, Y.; Ouzhu; Fu, G. Response of Forage Nutrient Storages to Grazing in Alpine Grasslands. Front. Plant Sci. 2022, 13, 991287. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef] [PubMed]
  71. Zhang, H.; Fu, G. Responses of Plant, Soil Bacterial and Fungal Communities to Grazing Vary with Pasture Seasons and Grassland Types, Northern Tibet. Land Degrad. Dev. 2021, 32, 1821–1832. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
  72. Jones, A.; Panagos, P.; Barcelo, S.; Bouraoui, F.; Bosco, C.; Dewitte, O.; Gardi, C.; Erhard, M.; Hervás, J.; Hiederer, R. The State of Soil in Europe. JRC Ref. Rep. 2012, 78. [Google Scholar]
  73. Telo da Gama, J.; Loures, L.; López-Piñeiro, A.; Nunes, J.R. Spatial Distribution of Available Trace Metals in Four Typical Mediterranean Soils: The Caia Irrigation Perimeter Case Study. Agronomy 2021, 11, 2024. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
  74. Panagos, P.; Borrelli, P.; Poesen, J.; Meusburger, K.; Ballabio, C.; Lugato, E.; Montanarella, L.; Alewell, C. Reply to the Comment on “The New Assessment of Soil Loss by Water Erosion in Europe” by Fiener & Auerswald. Environ. Sci. Policy 2016, 57, 143–150. [Google Scholar]
  75. Miháliková, M.; Dengiz, O. Towards More Effective Irrigation Water Usage by Employing Land Suitability Assessment for Various Irrigation Techniques. Irrig. Drain. 2019, 68, 617–628. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
  76. Prokop, G.; Jobstmann, H.; Schönbauer, A.; European Commission; Directorate-General for the Environment. Overview of Best Practices for Limiting Soil Sealing or Mitigating Its Effects in EU-27: Final Report; European Commission: Luxembourg, 2011; ISBN 978-9-27920-669-6. [Google Scholar]
  77. Domenech, T.; Bahn-Walkowiak, B. Transition towards a Resource Efficient Circular Economy in Europe: Policy Lessons from the EU and the Member States. Ecol. Econ. 2019, 155, 7–19. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
  78. Amelung, W.; Bossio, D.; de Vries, W.; Kögel-Knabner, I.; Lehmann, J.; Amundson, R.; Bol, R.; Collins, C.; Lal, R.; Leifeld, J. Towards a Global-Scale Soil Climate Mitigation Strategy. Nat. Commun. 2020, 11, 5427. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef] [PubMed]
  79. Eckert, E.; Kovalevska, O. Sustainability in the European Union: Analyzing the Discourse of the European Green Deal. J. Risk Financ. Manag. 2021, 14, 80. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
  80. Fetting, C. The European Green Deal; ESDN Report; ESDN: Vienna, Austria, 2020; p. 53. [Google Scholar]
  81. Montanarella, L.; Panagos, P. The Relevance of Sustainable Soil Management within the European Green Deal. Land Use Policy 2021, 100, 104950. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
  82. Schebesta, H.; Candel, J.J. Game-Changing Potential of the EU’s Farm to Fork Strategy. Nat. Food 2020, 1, 586–588. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef] [PubMed]
  83. Nicastro, R.; Carillo, P. Food Loss and Waste Prevention Strategies from Farm to Fork. Sustainability 2021, 13, 5443. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
  84. Hermoso, V.; Carvalho, S.B.; Giakoumi, S.; Goldsborough, D.; Katsanevakis, S.; Leontiou, S.; Markantonatou, V.; Rumes, B.; Vogiatzakis, I.N.; Yates, K.L. The EU Biodiversity Strategy for 2030: Opportunities and Challenges on the Path towards Biodiversity Recovery. Environ. Sci. Policy 2022, 127, 263–271. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
  85. Miu, I.V.; Rozylowicz, L.; Popescu, V.D.; Anastasiu, P. Identification of Areas of Very High Biodiversity Value to Achieve the EU Biodiversity Strategy for 2030 Key Commitments. PeerJ 2020, 8, e10067. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef] [PubMed]
  86. Mammola, S.; Riccardi, N.; Prié, V.; Correia, R.; Cardoso, P.; Lopes-Lima, M.; Sousa, R. Towards a Taxonomically Unbiased European Union Biodiversity Strategy for 2030. Proc. R. Soc. B 2020, 287, 20202166. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef] [PubMed]
  87. Lee, B.X.; Kjaerulf, F.; Turner, S.; Cohen, L.; Donnelly, P.D.; Muggah, R.; Davis, R.; Realini, A.; Kieselbach, B.; MacGregor, L.S. Transforming Our World: Implementing the 2030 Agenda through Sustainable Development Goal Indicators. J. Public Health Policy 2016, 37, 13–31. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef] [PubMed]
  88. EEA. The European Environment—State and Outlook 2020: Knowledge for Transition to a Sustainable Europe; EEA: Luxembourg, 2019. [Google Scholar]
  89. FAO. Pulses: Symbiosis for Life; Food and Agriculture Organization: Rome, Italy, 2016. [Google Scholar]
  90. Dorling, D. World Population Prospects at the UN: Our Numbers Are Not Our Problem? In The Struggle for Social Sustainability; Policy Press: Bristol, UK, 2021; pp. 129–154. ISBN 1-44-735612-8. [Google Scholar]
  91. Collins, J.; Page, L. The Heritability of Fertility Makes World Population Stabilization Unlikely in the Foreseeable Future. Evol. Human. Behav. 2019, 40, 105–111. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
  92. Bongaarts, J. IPBES, 2019: Summary for Policymakers of the Global Assessment Report on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services of the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services; Wiley Online Library: Hoboken, NJ, USA, 2019; ISBN 0098-7921. [Google Scholar]
  93. Cassman, K.G.; Grassini, P. A Global Perspective on Sustainable Intensification Research. Nat. Sustain. 2020, 3, 262–268. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
  94. Xie, H.; Huang, Y.; Chen, Q.; Zhang, Y.; Wu, Q. Prospects for Agricultural Sustainable Intensification: A Review of Research. Land 2019, 8, 157. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
  95. Bangash, R.F.; Passuello, A.; Sanchez-Canales, M.; Terrado, M.; López, A.; Elorza, F.J.; Ziv, G.; Acuña, V.; Schuhmacher, M. Ecosystem Services in Mediterranean River Basin: Climate Change Impact on Water Provisioning and Erosion Control. Sci. Total Environ. 2013, 458–460, 246–255. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef] [PubMed]
  96. Nielsen, U.N.; Ayres, E.; Wall, D.H.; Bardgett, R.D. Soil Biodiversity and Carbon Cycling: A Review and Synthesis of Studies Examining Diversity-Function Relationships. Eur. J. Soil. Sci. 2011, 62, 105–116. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
  97. Jackson, L.E.; Pascual, U.; Hodgkin, T. Utilizing and Conserving Agrobiodiversity in Agricultural Landscapes. Agric. Ecosyst. Environ. 2007, 121, 196–210. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
  98. Newton, P.; Civita, N.; Frankel-Goldwater, L.; Bartel, K.; Johns, C. What Is Regenerative Agriculture? A Review of Scholar and Practitioner Definitions Based on Processes and Outcomes. Front. Sustain. Food Syst. 2020, 4, 194. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
  99. Schreefel, L.; Schulte, R.P.O.; De Boer, I.J.M.; Schrijver, A.P.; Van Zanten, H.H.E. Regenerative Agriculture–the Soil Is the Base. Glob. Food Secur. 2020, 26, 100404. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
  100. Davis, K.E. Extension in Sub-Saharan Africa: Overview and Assessment of Past and Current Models, and Future Prospects. J. Int. Agric. Ext. Educ. 2008, 15. [Google Scholar]
  101. Phillips, J.M. Farmer Education and Farmer Efficiency: A Meta-Analysis. Econ. Dev. Cult. Chang. 1994, 43, 149–165. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
  102. Schomers, S.; Matzdorf, B. Payments for Ecosystem Services: A Review and Comparison of Developing and Industrialized Countries. Ecosyst. Serv. 2013, 6, 16–30. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
  103. Primdahl, J.; Peco, B.; Schramek, J.; Andersen, E.; Oñate, J.J. Environmental Effects of Agri-Environmental Schemes in Western Europe. J. Environ. Manag. 2003, 67, 129–138. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
  104. Schader, C.; Grovermann, C.; Frick, R.; Grenz, J.; Stolze, M. Towards a New Public Goods Payment Model for Remunerating Farmers under the CAP Post-2020; FiBL: Frick, Switzerland, 2017. [Google Scholar]
  105. Liakos, K.G.; Busato, P.; Moshou, D.; Pearson, S.; Bochtis, D. Machine Learning in Agriculture: A Review. Sensors 2018, 18, 2674. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
  106. Zhang, N.; Wang, M.; Wang, N. Precision Agriculture—A Worldwide Overview. Comput. Electron. Agric. 2002, 36, 113–132. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
  107. Keesstra, S.D.; Bouma, J.; Wallinga, J.; Tittonell, P.; Smith, P.; Cerdà, A.; Montanarella, L.; Quinton, J.; Pachepsky, Y.; Van Der Putten, W.H. Forum Paper: The Significance of Soils and Soil Science towards Realization of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGS). Soil. Discuss. 2016, 2016, 1–28. [Google Scholar]
  108. Tittonell, P. Ecological Intensification of Agriculture—Sustainable by Nature. Curr. Opin. Environ. Sustain. 2014, 8, 53–61. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
  109. Hartmann, C.; Siegrist, M. Consumer Perception and Behaviour Regarding Sustainable Protein Consumption: A Systematic Review. Trends Food Sci. Technol. 2017, 61, 11–25. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
  110. Carfora, V.; Caso, D.; Conner, M. Randomized Controlled Trial of a Messaging Intervention to Increase Fruit and Vegetable Intake in Adolescents: Affective versus Instrumental Messages. Br. J. Health Psychol. 2016, 21, 937–955. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
  111. de-Magistris, T.; Gracia, A. Consumers’ Willingness-to-Pay for Sustainable Food Products: The Case of Organically and Locally Grown Almonds in Spain. J. Clean. Prod. 2016, 118, 97–104. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
  112. Bajželj, B.; Richards, K.S.; Allwood, J.M.; Smith, P.; Dennis, J.S.; Curmi, E.; Gilligan, C.A. Importance of Food-Demand Management for Climate Mitigation. Nat. Clim. Chang. 2014, 4, 924–929. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
  113. Willett, W.; Rockström, J.; Loken, B.; Springmann, M.; Lang, T.; Vermeulen, S.; Garnett, T.; Tilman, D.; DeClerck, F.; Wood, A. Food in the Anthropocene: The EAT–Lancet Commission on Healthy Diets from Sustainable Food Systems. Lancet 2019, 393, 447–492. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
  114. Brevik, E.C.; Homburg, J.A.; Sandor, J.A. Soils, Climate, and Ancient Civilizations. In Developments in Soil Science; Elsevier: Amsterdam, The Netherlands, 2018; Volume 35, pp. 1–28. ISBN 978-0-44463-865-6. [Google Scholar]
  115. Searchinger, T.D.; Wirsenius, S.; Beringer, T.; Dumas, P. Assessing the Efficiency of Changes in Land Use for Mitigating Climate Change. Nature 2018, 564, 249–253. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
  116. Steinfeld, H.; Gerber, P.; Wassenaar, T.D.; Castel, V.; Rosales, M.; Rosales, M.; de Haan, C. Livestock’s Long Shadow: Environmental Issues and Options; Food & Agriculture Org.: Rome, Italy, 2006. [Google Scholar]
  117. West, P.C.; Gibbs, H.K.; Monfreda, C.; Wagner, J.; Barford, C.C.; Carpenter, S.R.; Foley, J.A. Trading Carbon for Food: Global Comparison of Carbon Stocks vs. Crop Yields on Agricultural Land. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA 2010, 107, 19645–19648. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
  118. Álvaro-Fuentes, J.; Morell, F.J.; Plaza-Bonilla, D.; Arrúe, J.L.; Cantero-Martínez, C. Modelling Tillage and Nitrogen Fertilization Effects on Soil Organic Carbon Dynamics. Soil. Tillage Res. 2012, 120, 32–39. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
  119. Behera, S.K.; Shukla, A.K. Spatial Distribution of Surface Soil Acidity, Electrical Conductivity, Soil Organic Carbon Content and Exchangeable Potassium, Calcium and Magnesium in Some Cropped Acid Soils of India. Land Degrad. Dev. 2015, 26, 71–79. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
  120. Clark, M.; Tilman, D. Comparative Analysis of Environmental Impacts of Agricultural Production Systems, Agricultural Input Efficiency, and Food Choice. Environ. Res. Lett. 2017, 12, 064016. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
  121. Poore, J.; Nemecek, T. Reducing Food’s Environmental Impacts through Producers and Consumers. Science 2018, 360, 987–992. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
  122. Shepon, A.; Eshel, G.; Noor, E.; Milo, R. The Opportunity Cost of Animal Based Diets Exceeds All Food Losses. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA 2018, 115, 3804–3809. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef] [PubMed]
  123. Tuso, P.J.; Ismail, M.H.; Ha, B.P.; Bartolotto, C. Nutritional Update for Physicians: Plant-Based Diets. Perm. J. 2013, 17, 61. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
  124. Lynch, H.; Johnston, C.; Wharton, C. Plant-Based Diets: Considerations for Environmental Impact, Protein Quality, and Exercise Performance. Nutrients 2018, 10, 1841. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef] [PubMed]
  125. Craig, W.J. Health Effects of Vegan Diets. Am. J. Clin. Nutr. 2009, 89, S1627–S1633. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
  126. Smetana, S.; Mathys, A.; Knoch, A.; Heinz, V. Meat Alternatives: Life Cycle Assessment of Most Known Meat Substitutes. Int. J. Life Cycle Assess. 2015, 20, 1254–1267. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
  127. Lynch, J.; Pierrehumbert, R. Climate Impacts of Cultured Meat and Beef Cattle. Front. Sustain. Food Syst. 2019, 3, 5. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef] [PubMed]
  128. Bryant, C.; Szejda, K.; Parekh, N.; Deshpande, V.; Tse, B. A Survey of Consumer Perceptions of Plant-Based and Clean Meat in the USA, India, and China. Front. Sustain. Food Syst. 2019, 3, 11. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
  129. Stenmarck, Â.; Jensen, C.; Quested, T.; Moates, G.; Buksti, M.; Cseh, B.; Juul, S.; Parry, A.; Politano, A.; Redlingshofer, B. Estimates of European Food Waste Levels; IVL Swedish Environmental Research Institute: Stockholm, Sweden, 2016; ISBN 9-18-831901-6. [Google Scholar]
  130. Stöckli, S.; Niklaus, E.; Dorn, M. Call for Testing Interventions to Prevent Consumer Food Waste. Resour. Conserv. Recycl. 2018, 136, 445–462. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
  131. Hebrok, M.; Boks, C. Household Food Waste: Drivers and Potential Intervention Points for Design–An Extensive Review. J. Clean. Prod. 2017, 151, 380–392. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
  132. Garnett, T.; Mathewson, S.; Angelides, P.; Borthwick, F. Policies and Actions to Shift Eating Patterns: What Works. Foresight 2015, 515, 518–522. [Google Scholar]
  133. Drewnowski, A.; Darmon, N. The Economics of Obesity: Dietary Energy Density and Energy Cost. Am. J. Clin. Nutr. 2005, 82, 265S–273S. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef] [PubMed]
  134. Saxe, H.; Larsen, T.M.; Mogensen, L. The Global Warming Potential of Two Healthy Nordic Diets Compared with the Average Danish Diet. Clim. Chang. 2013, 116, 249–262. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
  135. Jones, A.D.; Hoey, L.; Blesh, J.; Miller, L.; Green, A.; Shapiro, L.F. A Systematic Review of the Measurement of Sustainable Diets. Adv. Nutr. 2016, 7, 641–664. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
  136. Fresán, U.; Sabaté, J. Vegetarian Diets: Planetary Health and Its Alignment with Human Health. Adv. Nutr. 2019, 10, S380–S388. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
  137. Kramer, G.F.; Tyszler, M.; van’t Veer, P.; Blonk, H. Decreasing the Overall Environmental Impact of the Dutch Diet: How to Find Healthy and Sustainable Diets with Limited Changes. Public. Health Nutr. 2017, 20, 1699–1709. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
  138. Springmann, M.; Clark, M.; Mason-D’Croz, D.; Wiebe, K.; Bodirsky, B.L.; Lassaletta, L.; De Vries, W.; Vermeulen, S.J.; Herrero, M.; Carlson, K.M. Options for Keeping the Food System within Environmental Limits. Nature 2018, 562, 519–525. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
  139. Foley, J.A.; Ramankutty, N.; Brauman, K.A.; Cassidy, E.S.; Gerber, J.S.; Johnston, M.; Mueller, N.D.; O’Connell, C.; Ray, D.K.; West, P.C.; et al. Solutions for a Cultivated Planet. Nature 2011, 478, 337. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef] [PubMed]
  140. Mueller, N.D.; Gerber, J.S.; Johnston, M.; Ray, D.K.; Ramankutty, N.; Foley, J.A. Closing Yield Gaps through Nutrient and Water Management. Nature 2012, 490, 254–257. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef] [PubMed]
Figure 1. Aridity index evolution and projection for a Mediterranean basin region [15].
Figure 1. Aridity index evolution and projection for a Mediterranean basin region [15].
Ecologies 04 00036 g001
Figure 2. A classical desertification example occurring in the Mediterranean basin: (a) decreasing soil organic matter, (b) increasing pH, and (c) increasing electrical conductivity in a 10 year span [38].
Figure 2. A classical desertification example occurring in the Mediterranean basin: (a) decreasing soil organic matter, (b) increasing pH, and (c) increasing electrical conductivity in a 10 year span [38].
Ecologies 04 00036 g002
Table 1. Summary of the Multifaceted Roles of Soils in Ecosystem Services and Nutrient Cycling.
Table 1. Summary of the Multifaceted Roles of Soils in Ecosystem Services and Nutrient Cycling.
Role of SoilDescriptionEcosystem ServiceReferences
Support for BiodiversitySupports diverse flora, fauna, and microorganisms driving biogeochemical processes.Supporting[35]
Provisioning ServicesIncludes tangible products derived from soils like food, fiber, fuel, medicinal plants.Provisioning[15,39,40,41,42]
Soil Health & Global Food SecurityLink between soil properties, crop yield, and nutritional content. Importance of sustainable practices.Provisioning[15,40,41,42]
Water RegulationAbsorbs, stores, and purifies water, influenced by factors like cation exchange capacity, porosity, and land management.Regulating[16,32,37,43,44]
Climate Change MitigationActs as a carbon sink through soil organic matter, mitigating greenhouse gases.Regulating[6,45,46]
Nutrient CyclingFundamental to soil fertility, maintaining soil structure, and fostering biodiversity.Supporting[47]
Cultural ServicesEncompasses spiritual enrichment, intellectual development, recreation, and aesthetic enjoyment. Shapes landscapes, traditions, artistic, and spiritual endeavors.Cultural[48]
Soil Degradation & Nutrient DepletionCharacterized by nutrient depletion, loss of organic matter, and disruption of structure, leading to land degradation.-[6,11,42,49]
Strategic Soil ManagementNeed to prioritize sustainable soil management, including conservation, reducing degradation, and restoration. Fundamental to continued provision of ecosystem services and nutrient cycling.-[17,32,33,34,49]
Table 2. Threats to Soil and Desertification: Challenges and Mitigation Strategies.
Table 2. Threats to Soil and Desertification: Challenges and Mitigation Strategies.
DesertificationGradual infertility due to drought, deforestation, inappropriate agricultural practices, leading to reduced agricultural productivity.Integration of traditional knowledge, scientific research, modern technologies, effective policies.[2,21,65,66,67]
Soil Acidification and AlkalinizationVariations in soil pH due to climate change and human activities, leading to acidification and alkalinization in different regions and depths.Sustainable soil management and conservation practices that address complex pH dynamics.[15,69,70,71]
ErosionRemoval of fertile topsoil layer affecting the soil’s ability to retain water, nutrients, organic matter, impacting agriculture and water quality.Sustainable land management, erosion control techniques.[16,74,75]
Loss of Organic MatterDecline in organic content, affecting soil health and fertility.Organic farming, addition of organic matter.[43,72,73]
Compaction & SalinizationCompression of soil, reducing pore space, affecting root growth and water infiltration. Salinization affects fertility and plant growth.Proper irrigation management, crop rotation, and use of gypsum.[43,72,73]
Landslides & ContaminationLandslides disturb soil layers and ecosystems; contamination from pollutants affects soil quality and safety.Slope stabilization, reforestation, and proper waste management.[43,72,73]
Soil SealingCovering soil with impermeable materials, leading to permanent loss of soil functions and degradation of habitats, often due to urbanization.Implementing land take targets, urban planning to preserve soil functions.[76,77]
Overexploitation & Intensive FarmingOveruse of soil for agriculture, improper irrigation, and excessive farming lead to degradation.Sustainable farming practices, proper irrigation methods, diversification of crops, reducing industrial pollution, and urban planning.[43,72,73]
Disclaimer/Publisher’s Note: The statements, opinions and data contained in all publications are solely those of the individual author(s) and contributor(s) and not of MDPI and/or the editor(s). MDPI and/or the editor(s) disclaim responsibility for any injury to people or property resulting from any ideas, methods, instructions or products referred to in the content.

Share and Cite

MDPI and ACS Style

Telo da Gama, J. The Role of Soils in Sustainability, Climate Change, and Ecosystem Services: Challenges and Opportunities. Ecologies 2023, 4, 552-567.

AMA Style

Telo da Gama J. The Role of Soils in Sustainability, Climate Change, and Ecosystem Services: Challenges and Opportunities. Ecologies. 2023; 4(3):552-567.

Chicago/Turabian Style

Telo da Gama, José. 2023. "The Role of Soils in Sustainability, Climate Change, and Ecosystem Services: Challenges and Opportunities" Ecologies 4, no. 3: 552-567.

Article Metrics

Back to TopTop