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Key Biochemical Attributes to Assess Soil Ecosystem Sustainability

  • Authors: Laudicina, V.; Dennis, P.; Palazzolo, E.; Badalucco, L.
  • Publication year: 2011
  • Type: Capitolo o Saggio (Capitolo o saggio)
  • Key words: Soil quality • Soil enzymes • C and N mineralisation-immobilisation • Microbial diversity • Nucleic acid- and fatty acid-based indicators
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Soil is not a renewable resource, at least within the human timescale. In general, any anthropic exploitation of soils tends to disturb or divert them from a more “natural” development which, by definition, represents the best comparison term for measuring the relative shift from soil sustainability. The continuous degradation of soil health and quality due to abuse of land potentiality or intensive management occurs since decades. Soil microbiota, being ‘the biological engine of the Earth’, provides pivotal services in the soil ecosystem functioning. Hence, management practices protecting soil microbial diversity and resilience, should be pursued. Besides, any abnormal change in rate of innumerable soil biochemical processes, as mediated by microbial communities, may constitute early and sensitive warning of soil homeostasis alteration and, therefore, diagnoses a possible risk for soil sustainability. Among the vastness of soil biochemical processes and related attributes (bioindicators) potentially able to assess the sustainable use of soils, those related to mineralisation-immobilisation of major nutrients (C and N), including enzyme activity (functioning) and composition (community diversity) of microbial biomass, have paramount importance due to their centrality in soil metabolism. In this chapter we have compared, under various pedoclimates, the impact of different agricultural factors (fertilisation, tillage, etc.) under either intensive and sustainable managements on soil microbial community diversity and functioning by both classical and molecular soil quality indicators, in order to outline the most reliable soil biochemical attributes for assessing risky shifts from soil sustainability.