The soil environment
Soil forms a thin mantle over the Earth's surface and acts as the interface between the atmosphere and lithosphere, the outermost shell of the Earth. It is a multiphase system, consisting of mineral material, plant roots, water and gases, organic matter at various stages of decay, and a variety of live organisms. The first step towards understanding what controls the abundance and activities of these organisms, and also the factors that lead to spatial and temporal variability in soil biological communities, is to gain an understanding of the physical and chemical nature of the soil matrix in which they live. This chapter provides background on the factors responsible for regulating soil formation, and hence the variety of soils in the landscape. It also discusses the key properties of the soil environment that most influence soil biota, leading to variability in soil biological communities across different spatial and temporal scales.
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