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Soil Life

ground nesting bee in soil
Photo: Sara Morris

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.

  1. Maximize soil cover with living or dead plant matter.
  2. Minimize soil disturbance. This includes physical disturbance of tillage or digging and the chemical disturbance of pesticides.
  3. Maximize continuous living roots of perennial plants and/or a series of annuals across all seasons.
  4. 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.


firefly larva in soil
All firefly species live within the soil surface during their larval stage. They are soil invertebrates! (Photo: Katja Schulz, Flickr.)