Soil inhabitants hold together the planet’s food system
The Global Soil Biodiversity Atlas— the outstanding reward of a 3-year global collaboration—was launched on 25 May 2016 in Nairobi. The launch, part of a symposium of the Second United Nations Environment Assembly, provided an opportunity for eminent speakers in the field to discuss the central role soil biodiversity plays in food security, environmental health, and the global sustainable development agenda.
Edmundo Barrios, the event’s lead organizer, is Senior Soil Ecosystem Scientist at the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF), and one of the editors of the Atlas.
“Biodiversity is largely understood by society as that which lives above the ground and easily observed like trees, crops and birds. Much less is known about belowground biodiversity. In fact, the smaller the organism, the less we know about it,” said Barrios. By ignoring soil biodiversity, we might be missing the real picture of global biodiversity.” For instance, whereas around 88% of tree species and around half of all ant species have been described, less than 1.5% of microscopic soil bacteria are known to science, he explained.
But the situation is changing fast, thanks to new molecular technologies and powerful visualization tools which have been developed during the last decade, tools that allow a glimpse into a fascinating world beneath our feet.
“No longer is soil biodiversity a black box- we are cracking into that and moving fast about it,” said keynote speaker Diana Wall, Science Chair of the Global Soil Biodiversity Initiative (GSBI) and Professor at Colorado State University. http://goo.gl/NYfjph
As Clouds Head for the Poles, Time to Prepare for Food and Water Shocks
A changing climate means less rain and lower water supplies in regions where many people live and much of the planet’s food is produced: the mid-latitudes of the Northern and Southern hemispheres, including the U.S. Southwest, southern Europe and parts of the Middle East, southern Africa, Australia and Chile. As WRI-Aqueduct’s future scenarios for water supply show, diminished water supplies will be apparent in these areas by 2020 – less than four years away -- and are expected to grow worse by 2030 and 2040.
Now a new study in the journal Nature provides some of the first evidence that this widely-predicted phenomenon – the movement of clouds and rainfall from the mid-latitudes towards the North and South poles -- is already taking place. Just like the retreat of glaciers and polar sea ice, now clouds and rain are retreating poleward.
This will have huge implications for agricultural production, industrial and energy output, and municipal water provisioning. Many irrigated agricultural areas are already facing water stress. The climate-driven shift of clouds and rain – known as Hadley Cell expansion – will put those areas under even greater stress in the future. Rain-fed agriculture, which many poor people depend upon, will also suffer as a result of reduced rainfall in the mid-latitude regions.
A recent WRI study finds that sub-Saharan Africa will need to more than triple crop production by 2050 in order to feed its growing population. This hard-to-reach target will become more difficult in places like southern Africa and the western Sahel, where water supply is projected to fall.
In addition to worsening water stress and undermining food security, decreasing water supply in the world’s mid-latitudes may also help destabilize nations in these regions, adding to pre-existing political tensions, and helping contribute to armed conflict and migration, as we have seen in places like Syria. More