Conclusions

There are many determinants of vulnerability of soil biota and the services that they provide to global change. The overarching determinant is spatial and temporal scale; global change phenomena are simultaneously manifested at a range of scales, and can affect soil biota at each of these scales. Soil organisms and the processes that they regulate also function at several scales, and this in turn results in the effects of global change on services provided by the soil biota being inherently scale dependent. Further, a range of extrinsic and intrinsic factors influences the vulnerability of services delivered by the soil biota to global change. Among these are life-history traits that determine the resilience and resistance of organism populations to perturbations, including those created through global change, and therefore the processes driven by these organisms. There are numerous mechanisms through which global change phenomena can affect soil biota, and these have varied and complex effects on both the organisms themselves and the services that they regulate. The direction of these effects depends upon the global change phenomenon considered, spatial and temporal scale, and the community composition of both the aboveground and belowground biota (Wardle et al. 2004). A recurrent theme is the overarching role of linkages between the aboveground and belowground subsystems: these subsystems do not operate in isolation but are instead mutually dependent upon one another. Global change factors that directly affect organisms on one side of the aboveground-belowground interface will therefore promote feedbacks through their indirect effects on organisms on the other side of the interface.

The quantification exercise (Tables 5.A1-5.A3) serves to reinforce the important role that soil organisms have in driving ecosystem services, as well as the extent to which they are affected by global change. Although specific entries and scores can be debated, and it is recognized that this exercise has the usual limitations of any survey based on expert opinion, the tables nevertheless provide clear evidence that the soil biota play an important role in the delivery of a range of ecosystem services in very different ecosystem types, and that this role can be affected (either positively or negatively) by a spectrum of global change phenomena. Due to the many linkages of aboveground and belowground subsystems, soil biota probably play at least some role (however indirectly) in every terrestrial ecosystem service that has a biological component. Ultimately, if we are to understand better how ecosystems deliver goods and services upon which we depend and how these can be managed under scenarios of global change, then it is imperative that we recognize the considerable contribution that soil biota make to these services and their response to global change phenomena.

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