Atlas of Soil Biodiversity


Project Introduction

The SOIL Action of the Joint Research Centre’s Institute for Environment and Sustainability completed a comprehensive collaborative project focusing exclusively on life in soil. One of the outputs is the first ever European Atlas of Soil Biodiversity (Available also in French).

The atlas is a visually stunning publication of 128 pages, using striking photographs, informative texts and maps to explain and illustrate the great diversity of life in the soils across Europe. The atlas functions as a comprehensive guide to soil biology, allowing non-specialists to access information about this unseen world. The first part of the book provides an overview of the below ground environment, soil biota in general, the ecosystem functions that soil organism perform, the important value it has for human activities and relevance for global biogeochemical cycles. The second part is more of an 'Encyclopedia of Soil Biodiversity'. Starting with the smallest organisms such as the bacteria, this segment works through a range of taxonomic groups such as fungi, nematodes, insects and macro-fauna to illustrate the astonishing levels of heterogeneity of life in soil.

The atlas aims to :

  • support policies such as the EU biodiversity action plan; the Soil Thematic Strategy, the European Research Area,
  • promote the activities related to soil protection and soil biodiversity,
  • bring soil biodiversity into policy focus by identifying needs for policy and research strategies aimed at soil protection and enhancement of biodiversity

The Editorial Board

The Editorial Board of the Atlas comprised:

  • Arwyn Jones, Soil Action, JRC (Lead Editor)
  • Simon Jeffery, Soil Action, JRC
  • Ciro Gardi, Soil Action, JRC
  • Luca Montanarella, Soil Action Leader, JRC
  • Luca Marmo, European Commission DG Environment
  • Ladislav Miko, European Commission DG Environment
  • Karl Ritz, Cranfield University, UK
  • Guénola Peres, University of Rennes, France
  • Jörg Römbke, ECT Oekotoxikologie GmbH and BiK-F Research Centre, Germany
  • Wim van der Putten, Nederlands Instituut voor Ecologie, The Netherlands

Over 61 scientists contributed significant articles to the atlas with a further 163 providing additional graphical materials and photographs (444 images illustrated).

Proposal for European Atlas of Soil Biodiversity

Key Message 1: Biodiversity loss and climate change are two of the most pressing challenges of or time. Soil biodiversity is part of the solution to both.

Key Message 2: The main goal of the atlas is to inform the general public, policy makers, land managers, teachers and the general scientific community of the unique characteristics of life in soil and raise awareness of its environmental importance and global significance.

Key Message 3: Soil contains at least one quarter to one third of all living organisms on the planet yet only around 1% of soil microorganisms have been identified compared to 80% of plants.

Key Message 4: Most terrestrial ecosystem processes that sustain life on the planet (e.g. soil fertility, nutrient cycles, greenhouse gas fluxes, pollution control, antibiotics, etc.) are in fact all driven by soil biology. However, life within the soil is complex to observe (i.e. small scale and mostly hidden away) and suffers greatly by being ‘out of sight and out of mind’.

Key Message 5: However, as identified in the EU Thematic Strategy for Soil Protection, land degradation and associated pressures are threatening soil biodiversity and, hence, the ability of the soil to perform its basic ecosystem functions and services.

Key Message 6: In addition, taking steps to protect soil biodiversity may be doubly useful as efforts to protect soil communities are very likely to help above ground habitats.

The Atlas was launched on 23th-24th September 2010 in Brussels at the Conference 'Soil, Climate Change and Biodiversity – Where do we stand?' .

Press release: New atlas highlights the value of Europe's soil biodiversity and reveals how it is under threat

Undertaken under the auspices of the UN International Year of Biodiversity, the atlas positively showcases inter-service collaboration between the JRC and DG ENV, together with productive partnerships with internationally renowned scientists from all over the world. The atlas was supported by a JRC network: the Soil Biodiversity Working Group.

How to get a Copy of the Atlas?

  • Free download of pdf version of the atlas (180 MB) .
  • Paper Copy: A physical copy of the Atlas can be obtained from the EU Bookshop. The Atlas costs 25 Euro.

    European Atlas of Soil Biodiversity
    Catalogue Number: LB-NA-24375-EN-C
    ISBN: 978-92-79-15806-3, ISSN: 1018-5593
    Price: Euro 25.00


This atlas is the result of a collaboration between the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre in Ispra, Italy and world leading experts in soil biodiversity from Europe and beyond. The authors gratefully acknowledge the assistance of the following individuals and organisations. We also thank and offer our apologies if we have inadvertently and unintentionally omitted anybody. For meetings and discussions before the drafting phase we would like to acknowledge the effort of Ljibert Brussard, Carlo Jacomini, Olaf Schmidt and Siliva Pieper, as well as the other members of the Soil Biodiversity Working Group, most of whom have made important contributions to this atlas and so are listed by name under the authors and contributors. Vit Penziek has provided support with regard to ArcGIS, cartography and advice concerning soil taxonomy.

Nicholas Frost provided assistance with Photoshop and undertook the post production colour addition for many of the scanning electron micrographs. Linda and Malcolm Jeffery for their help with proof reading of this atlas. Katarzyna Turnau for the provision of several pictures, as well as for the introduction of further contributors that have helped to strengthen this atlas. Franz Horak helped in the area of the history of soil biodiversity.

The editors are grateful for all invaluable advice and guidance provided by Monika Walter and Mare Maxwell at the Publications Office of the European Union in Luxembourg. In addition, thanks are due to colleagues in DG Communication and the EURESIN consortium for their willingness to collaborate and support the project. Lastly, without the flexibility, understanding and professionalism of Ian Dewsbery and Jon Gammage at Lovell Johns Ltd (UK), the quality of this publication would be shadow of what was finally produced. Huge thanks also to all the members of the JRC Soil Action and Grainne Mulhern for their eagle-eyed pre-production checks of the final manuscript.

Soil Biodiversity Atlas – Erratum

Contact Points

Feedback and Information: Arwyn Jones



Soil Biodiversity Atlas in YouTube (10 minutes Video)



Supporting Documents


Biodiversity Potential Threats

Figure 1: Map of Soil Biodiversity Potential Threats

Figure 2: The mole (Talpidae) is one of only a very few vertebrates that live permanently in the soil. A mole’s diet consists primarily of earthworms and other small invertebrates found in the soil. Because their saliva contains a toxin that can paralyse earthworms, moles are able to store their still living prey for later consumption in special underground store rooms. Moles excavate extensive burrows with the waste material being ejected as characteristic molehills. Despite their often negative perception amongst gardeners for the damage they cause to lawns, moles are a valuable indicator of a healthy soil. Being a high-order predator, moles require a functioning soil ecosystem and supporting biodiversity in order to survive. Molehills can therefore be regarded as an indicator of healthy soil biomes. While moles can be found in most parts of North America, Asia and Europe, there are no moles in Ireland.
soil as factory life

Figure 3: Soil – the factory of life. Scientists estimate that one-quarter of the species on the planet Earth live in the soil. This diverse ecosystem performs a variety of functions. It processes waste organic matter to sustain life above the ground, from plants to animals to people; it regulates the carbon flux and the water cycle, it keeps pests at bay and decontaminates polluted land; and it provides raw materials for new pharmaceuticals to tackle infectious diseases. The workers in this factory are microorganisms, small and large invertebrates, small mammals, even plant roots – their workplace is the dark or dim layers of topsoil beneath grasslands, forests and green spaces in towns. In the following pages, the atlas describes what takes place in this fascinating environment, presents the workers of this critical factory, outlines the threats to their habitat and the research and legislation that are being undertaken to protect them. The above photograph shows a soil with an organic-rich topsoil. Both the rhizosphere, the zone in the soil which is influenced by the physical, chemical and biological processes of plant roots, and small burrows made by earthworms and other soil organisms are clearly visible.


Figure 4: Mites of order Prostigmata are commonly present in soils. They are extremely variable in shapes, size and sclerotization,and also very diverse in feeding habits. Figure shows some of this morphological variability