Many of us walk around daily and give no thought to what is under our feet. We do not consider soil a vital natural resource, but it is. And as with water and air, soil quality is very important to our society. Soils perform 6 functions in our ecosystems.
First it is a medium for plant growth. Plants root into the soil structure and stabilize the plant above ground. It holds nutrients, air, and water which the plants need.
Next, our soils regulate water supplies. Soil quality affects water quality. Contaminants and excess nutrients in poor soils can leach into groundwater. On the other hand, soils can purify poor quality water before it recharges groundwater supplies such as in septic tanks or rain gardens.
Soils also recycle nutrients needed for plant growth. If soils did not perform this function, plants and animals would exhaust the nutrients and there would be an increase in waste in our ecosystems.
Soils provide habitat for numerous organisms. An amazing amount of soil organisms exist hidden from our view. Earthworms, microscopic worms, bacteria, fungi and more call our soils home. These organisms play an important role in keeping our soils productive and our fields yielding crops.
Soils are also used as an engineering medium. For many years, humans have used soils to build and construct homes, roads, pottery and more. Just think of the roads and buildings that would not be here if we did not have soils.
Lastly, soils actually modify the chemical composition of the atmosphere. Air is a major component of our soils and it exchanges gases that are necessary for plant growth and microorganism survival. Also, dry, small soil particles can be picked up by winds causing human health concerns due to dust in the air we breathe.
So, is dirt just dirt or is it much more? I contend that without it, we would not be here today. So when you walk around today, consider the soil under your feet. It will not take long and you will see that soil surrounds us every day and is a very important natural resource.