Soil multifunctionality: Synergies and trade-offs across European climatic zones and land uses

Marie J. Zwetsloot*, Jeroen van Leeuwen, Lia Hemerik, Henk Martens, Iolanda Simó Josa, Marijn Van de Broek, Marko Debeljak, Michiel Rutgers, Taru Sandén, David P. Wall, Arwyn Jones, Rachel E. Creamer

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

40 Citations (Scopus)


With increasing societal demands for food security and environmental sustainability on land, the question arises: to what extent do synergies and trade-offs exist between soil functions and how can they be measured across Europe? To address this challenge, we followed the functional land management approach and assessed five soil functions: primary productivity, water regulation and purification, climate regulation, soil biodiversity and nutrient cycling. Soil, management and climate data were collected from 94 sites covering 13 countries, five climatic zones and two land-use types (arable and grassland). This dataset was analysed using the Soil Navigator, a multicriteria decision support system developed to assess the supply of the five soil functions simultaneously. Most sites scored high for two to three soil functions, demonstrating that managing for multifunctionality in soil is possible but that local constraints and trade-offs do exist. Nutrient cycling, biodiversity and climate regulation were less frequently delivered at high capacity than the other two soil functions. Using correlation and co-occurrence analyses, we also found that synergies and trade-offs between soil functions vary among climatic zones and land-use types. This study provides a new framework for monitoring soil quality at the European scale where both the supply of soil functions and their interactions are considered. Highlights: Managing and monitoring soil multifunctionality across Europe is possible. Synergies and trade-offs between soil functions exist, making it difficult to maximize the supply of all five soil functions simultaneously. Synergies and trade-offs between soil functions vary by climatic zone and land-use type. Climate regulation, biodiversity and nutrient cycling are less frequently delivered at high capacity.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1640-1654
JournalEuropean Journal of Soil Science
Issue number4
Early online date21 Sept 2020
Publication statusPublished - 2021


  • arable land
  • climate
  • grassland
  • monitoring
  • soil multifunctionality
  • synergies
  • trade-offs


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