The life and biological productivity of farms, gardens, and wildlands depend on good soil health. Healthy soils are self-sustaining and functioning ecosystems of plants, microbes and animals. Most soil animals are invertebrates. Springtails, earthworms (annelids), and firefly larvae are examples of soil invertebrates with important roles in soil communities. They recycle organic matter, sequester carbon, and make essential nutrients available for plants. Soil animals also build soil structure, provide pest control, and increase water infiltration.
Despite the importance of soil animals, they have been generally absent from resources about soil health. To address this need, Xerces developed the Farming with Soil Life handbook, which includes profiles of more than 70 soil invertebrate groups, their ecological roles, and relationships to soil health. This handbook correlates with a series of ongoing nationwide training courses. Recordings of each module are available at the Farming with Soil Life playlist on the Xerces YouTube Channel.
Provide and Protect Habitat for Soil Invertebrates
When tending soil on farms, in gardens, or in natural areas, following the four soil health principles will provide and protect habitat that soil invertebrates depend on.
- Maximize soil cover with living or dead plant matter.
- Minimize soil disturbance. This includes physical disturbance of tillage or digging and the chemical disturbance of pesticides.
- Maximize continuous living roots of perennial plants and/or a series of annuals across all seasons.
- Maximize biodiversity with multiple plant species and incorporate livestock where possible.
Principles 1 and 2 are focused on protecting the soil habitat. Principles 3 and 4 deal with food webs and energy flow within the soil ecosystem.
Learn About Soil Invertebrates and How to Observe Them
The Xerces Society offers a number of resources for farmers, habitat managers, gardeners and invertebrate enthusiasts to learn more about soil invertebrates and the management practices that affect them.
- Farming with Soil Life, A Handbook for Supporting Soil Invertebrates and Soil Health on Farms
A comprehensive guide to the life found in our soils details farming practices that support soil health and includes profiles of over 70 soil invertebrate groups and their ecological roles.
- Pocket Guide to Soil Invertebrates as Bioindicators
This pocket guide is intended as a portable, accessible, basic guide for observing and learning about soil invertebrates and what their presence may indicate about soil health.
- Beneficial Insects For Natural Pest Control: Soil Scouting
A soil scouting guide to help you assess the presence of beneficial soil insects where they hunt, feed and move across soils.
- Habitat Planning for Beneficial Insects
An outline of the ecology of many native beneficial insect groups highlighting recommended strategies for conservation biological control—the practice of providing habitat for insects that naturally attack crop pests and help reduce pest populations.
- Soil Invertebrates: Getting to Know the Life in Soil
A webinar that introduces common soil invertebrates, their ecology and roles in soil health, scouting methods, and management strategies to increase beneficial soil animal populations.
- Beneficial Invertebrates in Our Soil
A webinar that discusses the diversity of soil invertebrates, their role in soil health, ways to observe or monitor them, and farming practices that support soil life and improve production.
- NRCS Soil Education
- NRCS Soil Health
- NRCS Web Soil Survey
- Global Symposium on Soil Biodiversity
- Global Soil Biodiversity Initiative
- Life in the Soil: A Guide for Naturalists and Gardeners by James Nardi