Activities of soil organisms Microorganisms

Activities of soil organisms

Soil is the basis for agricultural and forestry production and at the same time the habitat for plants, animals and microorganisms of extraordinary diversity.
The soil organisms:
•    produce nutrients available to plants by fragmentation, decomposition and conversion of
      organic material
•    create and maintain the soil structure and aerate the soil by mechanically working the upper
      soil layer
•    eat microbial harmful organisms and
•    degrade pollutants

They thus make an essential contribution to soil fertility and other ecosystem services. They live on or near the soil surface but also in the depth. Not least due to the activities of soil organisms, soils have a high buffering and storage capacity.

Monitoring of soil condition

The Thünen Institute records the stocks of organic carbon in agricultural soils at 3.000 sampling points in Germany in the Soil Condition Survey for Agriculture. The Forest Soil Condition Survey is a joint project of the Federal Government and the Federal States. It provides information on the condition and change of forest soils, vegetation, crown condition and forest nutrition, which is collected at 1.900 sampling points.

Identifying, conserving and enhance soil dwelling organisms as a genetic resource

Despite their high relevance, a large part of soil organisms and their relationships to each other are still unexplored. Research is needed to understand the distribution of species in soils and their ecosystem functions. The assessment of soil organisms is difficult. In many cases, only total metabolic performance is accounted as the sum of the individual performance of various organisms, such as nitrogen fixation. From the point of view of sustainable agriculture, it is important to investigate in depth the relationships between the performance of soil organisms, plant health and yield.

Many soil organisms cannot yet be preserved as cultures in laboratory. The conservation of soil dwelling organisms must therefore take place primarily through the conservation or improvement of the diverse habitats. Soil is a very limited resource. Its conservation and protection is of great importance for agriculture and thus for food security of a growing world population.

Soil threats

Soil is endangered by numerous loads:•    Competition with other land uses: Fertile soil is lost daily from agriculture in Germany to       settlements and traffic•    Erosion by wind and water•    Compaction due to improper processing with heavy machinery•    Contamination with pollutants•    Incorrect measures in the areas of fertilisation and plant protection•    Acidification•    Climate change•    Invasive alien species

Soil losses usually cannot be compensated due to the very slow bottom formation in Central Europe.

Soil Protection

The German Federal Soil Protection Act prescribes, among other things, land management adapted to local conditions and weather. The Federal Soil Protection and Contaminated Sites Ordinance is intended to protect soils from pollution. The EU's Common Agricultural Politics promote measures to protect and conserve organic matters from erosion. It is also important to consider soil organisms as an important component for soil fertility.

The UN declared 2015 the International Year of Soil to underline the importance of soil. For this reason, the Soil of the Year has been chosen every year in Germany since 2005. The understanding of the processes in soils must be further improved through research. For example the intensive biocoenosis between fungi and fine roots of plants (mycorrhiza) is subject of further research at the moment. The targeted use of microorganisms to promote plant growth also promises sustainable possibilities for yield improvement.


+49 (0) 228 / 6845-3991

Monika Winkler

Federal Office for Agriculture
and Food
Unit 331
Deichmanns Aue 29
53179 Bonn