Dörner, J., Horn, R., Blum, W., Valle, S., Wendroth, O., Zúñiga, F., Thiers, O., Seguel, O.
Original Research Article, Editorial
More than 600 years after the statement by Leonardo Da Vinci (around 1500) “We know more about the movement of celestial bodies than about the soil underfoot” the United Nations proclaimed in December 2013 the year 2015 as the International Year of Soils. This enables and stimulates us to document the worldwide importance of our soils and to convince people of all ages, politicians and NGO´s of the complex importance of land use and soil management boundaries in order to sustain our soils and to protect them from irreversible losses and degradation. Soil is the basis of life on earth and an interface between different environmental systems and plays a key role in the environmental biogeochemical cycles. It is widely recognized that soils perform several basic functions in maintaining the production of agro-ecosystems, improving the quality of water and air, supporting human settlements and ensuring the quality of life for living beings. The increase of the world’s population and consequently the increase of pressure on natural resources, especially on soils, will force us to reach higher levels of production with fewer resources in order to sustain the health conditions for human life and the environment for future generations. There are multiple ways to produce the necessary quantity of goods and services to satisfy the needs of human beings. Soil will continue to play a key role in this process as it is the basis for agricultural and forestry production. Therefore, it is and will always be most relevant to recognize and to value its functions and services.
What is our role as soil scientists in this process? The question is important and the answer is complex. Why? Our activities range from scientific research in the field and in the laboratory in order to guaranty professional/postgraduate training, to the participation in scientific organizations for meeting the future tasks. In this context, the academic/scientific research and teaching activities often do not communicate in a simple and clear way the reasons for the important functions and services of the soil for natural ecosystems and human beings. There is a global concern about soil losses and degradation, which finally led to the declaration of the year 2015 as the “International Year of Soils (IYS)” and of the 5th of December as the World Soil Day by the 68th United Nations General assembly in December 2013. This UN decision aims at creating a platform to raise awareness about the importance of soils for food security as well as for further essential ecosystem functions. Soils must be used carefully and according to their resilience and elasticity for the longterm maintenance of soil key properties and processes, thus meeting the demands of a growing world population. Through land misuse and mismanagement soils have been increasingly degraded and some were irreversibly lost. Therefore, we have to emphasize, that mere public concern is not sufficient to protect soils and to use them sustainably. We need to take action! The strategy is to reach sustainable intensification for achieving food security, sufficient drinking water supply, and the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. These goals imply the mitigation of global change processes for maintaining healthy soils. Therefore, it is essential for scientists and the interested community to know more about soils and their functions and to convince politicians, decision makers, landowners, and the broad community about the importance of soils for the provision of goods and services for humankind. Thus, scientists must find a way to reach out to the society, whether through the engagement and outreach of professionals or by directly conveying the importance of soil functions to the broad public. In this context, soil science societies have the important role to be persistently active, not only because of their coordinating role in the society, but also for communicating with decision makers and politicians to recognize the ecosystem functions and services provided by soil.
Therefore, in cooperation with the Research Center on Volcanic Soils, we seek to raise some highlights in this special issue of the Journal Agro Sur, which we consider relevant for a better understanding of the functioning of soils. This edition contains studies addressing the problem of land use change and its impact on soil functioning. Moreover, issues of land degradation are addressed, as well as methods for improving soil fertility and functioning through a more sustainable and efficient management of pastures. Additionally, there are project studies on the strength and resilience of soils and their response to the addition of new volcanic materials. Finally, the use of new methodological approaches to allow a better understanding of the properties of soils is addressed. This Special Issue of Agro Sur thus intends to contribute to the celebration of the International Year of Soils 2015.