Gap assessment in current soil monitoring networks across Europe for measuring soil functions

J.P. Van Leeuwen, N.P.A. Saby, A. Jones, G. Louwagie, E. Micheli, M. Rutgers, R.P.O. Schulte, H. Spiegel, G. Toth, R.E. Creamer*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalLetterAcademicpeer-review

49 Citations (Scopus)


Soil is the most important natural resource for life on Earth after water. Given its fundamental role in sustaining the human population, both the availability and quality of soil must be managed sustainably and protected. To ensure sustainable management we need to understand the intrinsic functional capacity of different soils across Europe and how it changes over time. Soil monitoring is needed to support evidence-based policies to incentivise sustainable soil management. To this aim, we assessed which soil attributes can be used as potential indicators of five soil functions; (1) primary production, (2) water purification and regulation, (3) carbon sequestration and climate regulation, (4) soil biodiversity and habitat provisioning and (5) recycling of nutrients. We compared this list of attributes to existing national (regional) and EU-wide soil monitoring networks. The overall picture highlighted a clearly unbalanced dataset, in which predominantly chemical soil parameters were included, and soil biological and physical attributes were severely under represented. Methods applied across countries for indicators also varied. At a European scale, the LUCAS-soil survey was evaluated and again confirmed a lack of important soil biological parameters, such as C mineralisation rate, microbial biomass and earthworm community, and soil physical measures such as bulk density. In summary, no current national or European monitoring system exists which has the capacity to quantify the five soil functions and therefore evaluate multi-functional capacity of a soil and in many countries no data exists at all. This paper calls for the addition of soil biological and some physical parameters within the LUCAS-soil survey at European scale and for further development of national soil monitoring schemes.

Original languageEnglish
Article number124007
JournalEnvironmental Research Letters
Issue number12
Publication statusPublished - 12 Dec 2017


  • Europe
  • soil attributes
  • soil functions
  • soil monitoring networks


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