TOPIC 2: Different functions of soil

TOPIC 2: Different functions of soil

Soil has a variety of different functions, for nature, the climate and also for humans. This topic will present the most important functions of soil such as nutrient cycling, carbon sequestration, habitat for organisms and climate regulation.

Soil has a variety of different functions, for nature, the climate and also for humans. The most important soil functions include:

Graphic: Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) 2023 

Production of food, feed and renewable raw materials:

Soil secures our food and is the basis for the production of healthy food and raw materials.

Habitat for animals, plants and fungi

Soil provides a habitat for a large number of different organisms and plants. Up to 2000 species of soil animals live on 1m², which make up about 5% of the organic matter (Edaphon) and are significantly involved in diverse processes (making nutrients available, humus formation, etc.).

Filter for purification of water, buffer of pollutants and carbon storage

Due to its different layers, soil has a great filtering and purifying capacity. Rainwater is purified and filtered as it drips through the soil layers. But not only water is prepared. Pollutants and other chemical compounds are also absorbed into the soil, bound to the clay and humus particles, neutralised and stored. In particular, soil is also an important carbon store (see Topic 3).

Nutrient cycling

Dead plant material is decomposed, absorbed and made plant available. The nutrients necessary for plants are then stored in the soil and released back to the plant when needed.

Water storage/water retention

An essential function of soil is to absorb and store water. This means that an intact soil protects against floods (see Lesson 3 Water management).

Genetic pool and archive of cultural heritage

Soil is a very valuable storage, not only for nutrients and water, but also for genetic resources and our history. It provides information about natural and cultural historical events as well as the development/change of the landscape and climatic conditions.

Place for living, working and infrastructure

Soil is fundamental not only for animals and plants, but also for humans. Soils are the basis for buildings as well as for transport and other infrastructure facilities. For the preservation of these natural soil functions, it is essential that they are intact soils with species-rich flora and fauna. A natural water and nutrient cycle can only take place on healthy ground. Sealed, built-up or severely disturbed areas (e.g. due to buildings, intensive agricultural use or soil compaction) can no longer or only partially perform these functions, which has a negative impact on nature and humans (see Topic 5).


Boden erleben, Land Oberösterreich: BODEN_erLEBEN.pdf, 25. 05. 2023

FAO: Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO), 26. 05. 2023