Articles | Volume 4, issue 1
SOIL, 4, 83–92, 2018
SOIL, 4, 83–92, 2018

Original research article 15 Mar 2018

Original research article | 15 Mar 2018

A systemic approach for modeling soil functions

Hans-Jörg Vogel1,5, Stephan Bartke1, Katrin Daedlow2, Katharina Helming2, Ingrid Kögel-Knabner3, Birgit Lang4, Eva Rabot1, David Russell4, Bastian Stößel1, Ulrich Weller1, Martin Wiesmeier3, and Ute Wollschläger1 Hans-Jörg Vogel et al.
  • 1Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research – UFZ, Permoserstr. 15, 04318 Leipzig, Germany
  • 2Leibniz Centre for Agricultural Landscape Research (ZALF), Eberswalder Straße 84, 15374 Müncheberg, Germany
  • 3TUM School of Life Sciences Weihenstephan, Technical University of Munich, Emil-Ramann-Straße 2, 85354 Freising, Germany
  • 4Senckenberg Museum of Natural History, Sonnenplan 7, 02826 Görlitz, Germany
  • 5Martin-Luther-University Halle-Wittenberg, Institute of Soil Science and Plant Nutrition, Von-Seckendorff-Platz 3, 06120 Halle (Saale), Germany

Abstract. The central importance of soil for the functioning of terrestrial systems is increasingly recognized. Critically relevant for water quality, climate control, nutrient cycling and biodiversity, soil provides more functions than just the basis for agricultural production. Nowadays, soil is increasingly under pressure as a limited resource for the production of food, energy and raw materials. This has led to an increasing demand for concepts assessing soil functions so that they can be adequately considered in decision-making aimed at sustainable soil management. The various soil science disciplines have progressively developed highly sophisticated methods to explore the multitude of physical, chemical and biological processes in soil. It is not obvious, however, how the steadily improving insight into soil processes may contribute to the evaluation of soil functions. Here, we present to a new systemic modeling framework that allows for a consistent coupling between reductionist yet observable indicators for soil functions with detailed process understanding. It is based on the mechanistic relationships between soil functional attributes, each explained by a network of interacting processes as derived from scientific evidence. The non-linear character of these interactions produces stability and resilience of soil with respect to functional characteristics. We anticipate that this new conceptional framework will integrate the various soil science disciplines and help identify important future research questions at the interface between disciplines. It allows the overwhelming complexity of soil systems to be adequately coped with and paves the way for steadily improving our capability to assess soil functions based on scientific understanding.

Short summary
This paper deals with the importance of soil for our terrestrial environment and the need to predict the impact of soil management on the multitude of functions that soil provides. We suggest to consider soil as a self-organized complex system and provide a concept of how this could be achieved. This includes how soil research, currently fragmented into a number of more or less disjunct disciplines, may be integrated to substantially contribute to a science-based evaluation of soil functions.