Unnoticed by the people of Britain, a transformation has been happening beneath our feet. In the first study of its kind, scientists have analyzed the soil the country depends on.
In just the top 8cm (3in) of dirt, soil scientists estimate there are 12.8 quadrillion (12,800 million million) living organisms, weighing 10m tons, and, incredibly, that the number of these invertebrates – some just a hair’s breadth across – which in effect make the soil has increased by nearly 50% in a decade. At the same time, however, the diversity of life in the earth appears to have reduced.
The most likely reason for both the increase in numbers and the decrease in types is the rise of annual temperatures and rainfall over the decade of the study, leading to warmer, wetter summers, said Professor Bridget Emmett, of the UK’s Centre for Ecology and Hydrology (CEH), who led the study. The scientists’ theory is that the warmer, wetter soil encourages most of the bugs to breed faster or for longer, but that more marginal species have been unable to adapt to the new conditions.
They are less certain, however, about whether the changes are a threat or a boon: soil has a relatively high "species redundancy", so there are many species that can do the same job, but all creatures are facing an onslaught of changes such as global warming, pollution and habitat destruction.
In what is thought to be the first national analysis of change in soil bug numbers and types, Emmett’s team extrapolated that there were 1.28 x 10 to the power of 16 individual invertebrates, mainly made up of Oligochaetes (small worms), Collembola (springtails) and Acari (mites).
I got news for them, soil isn’t the only thing with increasing bug counts ….