Articles | Volume 1, issue 1
Special issue:
Review article
06 Feb 2015
Review article |  | 06 Feb 2015

Identification of sensitive indicators to assess the interrelationship between soil quality, management practices and human health

R. Zornoza, J. A. Acosta, F. Bastida, S. G. Domínguez, D. M. Toledo, and A. Faz

Abstract. Soil quality (SQ) assessment has long been a challenging issue, since soils present high variability in properties and functions. This paper aims to increase the understanding of SQ through the review of SQ assessments in different scenarios providing evidence about the interrelationship between SQ, land use and human health. There is a general consensus that there is a need to develop methods to assess and monitor SQ for assuring sustainable land use with no prejudicial effects on human health. This review points out the importance of adopting indicators of different nature (physical, chemical and biological) to achieve a holistic image of SQ. Most authors use single indicators to assess SQ and its relationship with land uses – soil organic carbon and pH being the most used indicators. The use of nitrogen and nutrient content has resulted sensitive for agricultural and forest systems, together with physical properties such as texture, bulk density, available water and aggregate stability. These physical indicators have also been widely used to assess SQ after land use changes. The use of biological indicators is less generalized, with microbial biomass and enzyme activities being the most selected indicators. Although most authors assess SQ using independent indicators, it is preferable to combine some of them into models to create a soil quality index (SQI), since it provides integrated information about soil processes and functioning. The majority of revised articles used the same methodology to establish an SQI, based on scoring and weighting of different soil indicators, selected by means of multivariate analyses. The use of multiple linear regressions has been successfully used for forest land use. Urban soil quality has been poorly assessed, with a lack of adoption of SQIs. In addition, SQ assessments where human health indicators or exposure pathways are incorporated are practically inexistent. Thus, further efforts should be carried out to establish new methodologies to assess soil quality not only in terms of sustainability, productivity and ecosystem quality but also human health. Additionally, new challenges arise with the use and integration of stable isotopic, genomic, proteomic and spectroscopic data into SQIs.