Soils are an essential component in the global ecosystem: good soil health underpins global food security, they are the largest reservoir of biodiversity on the planet, and they represent an important carbon store. Global soil degradation is well-understood to be a major environmental and societal challenge that we face in the 21st century. Microplastics have emerged as a contaminant of concern in recent years. Soils receive microplastics from many sources and they may actually be the biggest recipient of microplastic contamination to the environment. Microplastic particles have the potential to negatively impact soils by disrupting their functioning and physical structure. Yet, we have very little information on global soil microplastic contamination or the impact on soil functioning and health.
This project will provide new knowledge and improve our understanding of soil microplastic contamination and how microplastics impact upon soils. We will use microplastic particles that represent important sources of contamination to track how microplastics distribute in soils and to test the effects at different concentrations on physical properties and the structure of soils, microbial diversity and community structure, and soil enzyme activity. This project will use observed effects to define thresholds of soil resilience. This will inform about the potential for present or projected future scenarios of soil microplastic contamination to negatively impair global soil functioning and health.
Soils are a critical component of the food-water-energy-climate nexus, underpinning global food security, moderating the global hydrological cycle, and representing a substantial carbon store. Many soil environments are under significant pressure and global soil degradation represents one of the major environmental and societal challenges in the 21st century. Over the previous decade, microplastics (MP) have emerged as a contaminant of concern and several estimations have now identified soil systems as the main environmental recipient of MP. MP has the potential to negatively impact soils by interrupting micro-organism diversity and activity and altering physical structures. Despite this, there remains a paucity of data on global soil MP contamination or the impact on soil functioning and health. The DIMISOR project will address this issue by testing several particle types that represent important sources of MP to global soil environments for their potential to significantly alter physical properties and structure of soils, microbial diversity and community structure, and soil enzyme activity. This will utilise state-of-the-art facilities to control environmental variables and multiple stressors. This will be placed, for the first time, in the context of soil resilience. The characteristics of soil attribute response to MP as a disturbance will be assessed to define thresholds of soil resilience within a temporal framework, based on present-day and projected future scenarios of soil MP contamination. The proposed work is expected to have significant impact on advancing research and addressing societal challenges, through the generation of new knowledge and tools and by providing a new approach to assess the sustainability of current and potential future practices linked to the release of MP to soils.