Soils formation and protection

Biological diversity helps in the formation and maintenance of soil structure and the retention of moisture and nutrient levels. The loss of biological diversity through clearing of vegetation has contributed to the salinisation of soils, leaching of nutrients, laterisation of minerals and accelerated erosion of topsoil, reducing the land's productivity. Trees, on the other hand, lower the water table and remove deposited salt from the upper soil horizons.

Soil protection by maintenance of biological diversity can preserve the productive capacity of the soil, prevent landslides, safeguard coastlines and riverbanks, and prevent the degradation of coral reefs and coastal fisheries by siltation.

Trees and other vegetation also assist in soil formation. A significant contribution is the introduction of organic matter through litter formation and the decay and regeneration of tiny fibrous roots, both of which facilitate microbial activity. Another contribution is through the effects of root systems which break up soil and rock leading to, amongst other things, penetration of water. Root systems also bring mineral nutrients to the surface through root uptake. Organic matter formed by the decay of tiny fibrous roots can also bind with minerals, such as iron and aluminium, which can reduce the potential deleterious effects of these minerals on other vegetation (Attiwill et al., 1987).