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Natural Capital, Ecosystem Services, and Soil Change: Why Soil Science Must Embrace an Ecosystems Approach

Robinson, D.A., Hockley, N., Dominati, E., Lebron, I., Scow, K.M., Reynolds, B., Emmett, B.A., Keith, A.M., Jonge, L.W. de, Schjønning, P., Moldrup, P., Jones, S.B., Tuller, M.
Vadose zone journal 2012 v.11 no.1
anthropogenic activities, decision making, decision support systems, ecosystem services, ecosystems, humans, natural capital, natural resources, politics, soil, soil quality, vadose zone
Soil is part of the Earth's life support system, but how should we convey the value of this and of soil as a resource? Consideration of the ecosystem services and natural capital of soils offers a framework going beyond performance indicators of soil health and quality, and recognizes the broad value that soil contributes to human wellbeing. This approach provides links and synergies between soil science and other disciplines such as ecology, hydrology, and economics, recognizing the importance of soils alongside other natural resources in sustaining the functioning of the Earth system. We articulate why an ecosystems approach is important for soil science in the context of natural capital, ecosystem services, and soil change. Soil change is defined as change on anthropogenic time scales and is an important way of conveying dynamic changes occurring in soils that are relevant to current political decision-making time scales. We identify four important areas of research: (i) framework development; (ii) quantifying the soil resource, stocks, fluxes, transformations, and identifying indicators; (iii) valuing the soil resource for its ecosystem services; and (iv) developing decision-support tools. Furthermore, we propose contributions that soil science can make to address these research challenges.