World Soil Day 2016

For World Soil Day 2016, secretary of the BES Plants, Soils, Ecosystems Special Interest Group, Ellen Fry, has written about the work of the SIG and the importance of World Soil Day…


wsd1This year on World Soil Day I intend to use my social media platforms to raise awareness of the main issues surrounding soil conservation, including erosion, pollution and urbanisation. Now I’ll admit, soil isn’t exactly on the top of most people’s conservation list, but the simple fact is that if we destroy our soil we destroy ourselves in very short order.

And we are destroying it. The Soil Association’s estimation is that 30 football pitches of fertile soil are lost globally every minute, which is just an incomprehensible thought. In this tumultuous year, it is more crucial than ever that we start trying to look after the world around us, and this is what the International Union of Soil Sciences was trying to achieve when they first came up with World Soil Day in 2002. The day has been adopted by the European Commission and the FAO who have come up with a number of directives that aim to reduce the amount of soil lost. Each year the EU holds a conference in Brussels on World Soil Day and this year it is titled the ‘Soil stakeholder’s conference’. This really means everyone, because who can claim to have no stake in the future of our air, water and food supplies?

So please, spare a thought for the soil beneath your feet today.

ws2

The special interest group Plants, Soils, Ecosystems was started in 2011 by Franciska de Vries, then at the University of Lancaster. It aimed to bring together ecologists from a range of backgrounds and career stages who shared an interest in plant-soil interactions. I am attempting to follow in her footsteps, and it has been a fantastic opportunity to meet like-minded people and hear all sorts of perspectives on where the science is going. We have held a range of events over the last few years, and built a large network across Facebook, Twitter and WordPress, as well as a mailing list and bi-monthly Bulletin.

The group was formed because Franciska spotted a niche; while plant-soil interactions is a fairly close-knit community, there weren’t many organisations that focussed on plant-soil interactions specifically. The group has a huge scope; we welcome everyone from Tropical Ecology to the Arctic Circle and everyone in between. We have heard talks about peatlands, forests, grasslands and tundra, and found unifying concepts across them all. While our meetings have been very successful, we also aim to offer a service to our members. Many of them are starting out in this field, and it’s pretty daunting as an early career scientist. So this year we’ve run a short course in R programming in our most recent meeting and invited speakers from a range of career stages to talk to our delegates about the challenges of their specific career stage, as well as what they love.

We will also be hosting a workshop at the British Ecological Society’s Annual General Meeting this year, called “A spotlight on the publishing process: how to review papers and get your own published”. The aim will be to discuss and brainstorm the less acknowledged parts of the publishing process and will be in synergy with the larger ‘How to get published’session that the BES will carry out on the Sunday afternoon. We will consider how to best write a review to help an editor come to a decision about a manuscript, and when writing your own papers, we will discuss cover letters, titles and keywords, things that are often an afterthought in the submission process. Everyone is welcome.

The SIG has also hosted a workshop that aimed to bring together researchers who had soil informatics data, with the aim of creating a meta-analysis of soil bacterial sequencing data. This was a really exciting initiative, with some talented and experienced speakers. The group are writing a paper as we speak, watch this space! After the success of this workshop, the committee welcome suggestions for the next one.

This year we’ve seen a change to the line-up, as I took over from Franciska as secretary and we bid a sad goodbye to our student reps, Relena Ribbons (Universities of Bangor and Copenhagen) and Mike Van Nuland (University of Tennessee), who are both ready to submit their PhDs. They’ve put a huge amount of work into the SIG over the last couple of years and they’ll be hugely missed. But we have Tom Crowther joining us from the University of Wageningen, and our two new student reps, Jessica Clayton (University of Cologne) and Rosanne Broyd (University of Lancaster). We’re excited to begin!

As a new theme, this year we’re planning on exploring winter ecology and shoulder seasons. In conjunction with Rob Mills at the University of Lancaster, we will hold a meeting at Lancaster in April that will focus on the tricky question of what happens outside the growing season. Many studies only focus on what happens when the plants are growing, but we all know that complex things happen during the winter, with snowmelt causing nutrient flushes and loading the system with water ready for the next growing season. Therefore we will be using this meeting to invite a range of speakers to tell us about their research and thoughts on not only autumn, winter and spring processes, but also areas such as the tundra, which have permafrost and plant communities adapted to these conditions. We plan to prepare a manuscript with the meeting attendees, which will offer a range of arguments for why these seasons are so crucial. We will follow this up with a winter-themed thematic topic at the BES Annual Meeting next December, and we plan to run a workshop in Abisko in the Arctic Circle in 2018, by way of maintaining the theme.

The group is growing and evolving all the time, and we’re always on the lookout for ideas, suggestions and new members, so if you’d like to be involved with the group, please get in touch or come and talk to one of us in Liverpool- another great reason to come to the meeting!

For news, courses, job adverts and more, follow us on Twitter @besplantsoileco, Facebook or subscribe to our mailing list by sending an email to listserv@jiscmail.ac.uk (Subject: BLANK, message: SUBSCRIBE PLANT-SOIL-ECO Firstname Lastname.)

Ellen Fry
University of Manchester
Secretary for the Plant, Soils, Ecosystems special interest group

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