By Thomas Jensen, IPNI Great Plains Director
There is a lot more than just plants that live and grow in soil. Soil inhabiting organisms include a diversity of types and sizes. There are small burrowing mammals, insects, amphibians, and worms that can be seen with our eyes, and also a large diversity of tiny and microscopic biota including nematodes, bacteria, fungi and actinomycetes. All of these organisms work to breakup, disperse, incorporate into the ground and decompose plant residues.
They also, in many instances, help to weather soil mineral components and less soluble precipitated compounds. All this activity results in the release of plant nutrients in mineral forms that plants can use to grow. The whole process of nutrients being used by plants, and then plant residues being decomposed in soil is a vital part of nutrient cycling in the environment.
The majority of the nutrients in soil, at any one time, are stored in forms that are unavailable to plants. At first this sounds less effective, but is in fact a necessary feature of soils so that nutrients are stored and released in a timely and adequate manner, but not so soluble that they would be easily leached out of soils. Plant roots exude chemicals that help to dissolve some of these more complex and less soluble compounds that contain plant nutrients.
However, plants are not able to do this all on their own, and this is where other soil-inhabiting organisms, noted above, help out. One especially effective and…