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SOIL, 1, 173–185, 2015
© Author(s) 2015. CC Attribution 3.0 License.


Identification of sensitive indicators to assess the
interrelationship between soil quality, management
practices and human health
R. Zornoza1 , J. A. Acosta1 , F. Bastida2 , S. G. Domínguez1 , D. M. Toledo3 , and A. Faz1
1 Sustainable

Use, Management and Reclamation of Soil and Water Research Group. Department of Agrarian
Science and Technology, Universidad Politécnica de Cartagena, Paseo Alfonso XIII, 48,
30203 Cartagena, Spain
2 Department of Soil and Water Conservation, CEBAS-CSIC, Campus Universitario de Espinardo,
30100 Murcia, Spain
3 Cátedra de Edafología, Departamento de Suelo y Agua, Facultad de Ciencias Agrarias, Universidad Nacional
del Nordeste, Sargento Cabral 2131, 3400 Corrientes, Argentina
Correspondence to: R. Zornoza (
Received: 25 August 2014 – Published in SOIL Discuss.: 25 September 2014
Revised: 17 December 2014 – Accepted: 21 January 2015 – Published: 6 February 2015

Abstract. Soil quality (SQ) assessment has long been a challenging issue, since soils present high variability

in properties and functions. This paper aims to increase the understanding of SQ through the review of SQ
assessments in different scenarios providing evidence about the interrelationship between SQ, land use and
human health. There is a general consensus that there is a need to develop methods to assess and monitor SQ for
assuring sustainable land use with no prejudicial effects on human health. This review points out the importance
of adopting indicators of different nature (physical, chemical and biological) to achieve a holistic image of SQ.
Most authors use single indicators to assess SQ and its relationship with land uses – soil organic carbon and pH
being the most used indicators. The use of nitrogen and nutrient content has resulted sensitive for agricultural
and forest systems, together with physical properties such as texture, bulk density, available water and aggregate
stability. These physical indicators have also been widely used to assess SQ after land use changes. The use of
biological indicators is less generalized, with microbial biomass and enzyme activities being the most selected
indicators. Although most authors assess SQ using independent indicators, it is preferable to combine some
of them into models to create a soil quality index (SQI), since it provides integrated information about soil
processes and functioning. The majority of revised articles used the same methodology to establish an SQI,
based on scoring and weighting of different soil indicators, selected by means of multivariate analyses. The
use of multiple linear regressions has been successfully used for forest land use. Urban soil quality has been
poorly assessed, with a lack of adoption of SQIs. In addition, SQ assessments where human health indicators
or exposure pathways are incorporated are practically inexistent. Thus, further efforts should be carried out to
establish new methodologies to assess soil quality not only in terms of sustainability, productivity and ecosystem
quality but also human health. Additionally, new challenges arise with the use and integration of stable isotopic,
genomic, proteomic and spectroscopic data into SQIs.

Published by Copernicus Publications on behalf of the European Geosciences Union.

Management practices can directly affect productivity. Bone et al. who recommended the establishment of SQ criteria (Bone et al. showing an interdependence controlled by feedback mechanisms. liquid and gaseous components interact within a multitude of physical. 1). aesthetic and spiritual benefits. Less attention has been given to soil degradation and its direct or indirect effects on human health. soil is degrading by loss of organic matter. Because of the intrinsic association between soil and economy.soil-journal. SQ has interconnections with management practices. ecosystem functioning and human health. environmental. 1996).: Identification of sensitive indicators Introduction Concept of soil quality Soil is a complex environmental medium with high heterogeneity where solid. One of the greatest challenges for researchers is “translating science into practice” through identifying soil indicators capable of showing rapid changes in the performance of an ecosystem. Interconnection between management practices. www. social and health impacts of management practices. To assess the effects of SQ on organisms. timber. chemical and biological interrelated processes. soil quality.. regulating services that affect climate.. industry and tourism. the first user of the concept was Alexander (1971). 1. Nonetheless. Parr et al. environmental functions and soil health. 1991. which could benefit from establishment of methods for soil quality assessments (Bone et al. Only indirect effects of management practices on other components through soil quality are taken into consideration. productivity and other ecosystem aspects. The selection of indicators or indices to assess soil quality in an effective and sensitive way in terms of the ecological ambient and the purpose of the assessment is synthesized. Subsequent to that. despite the fact that SQ deterioration may possibly lead to a variety of human diseases (Deng. Larson and Pierce. contamination. animals and human health.. The definition of soil quality (SQ) has long been a challenging issue. 2015 Figure 1.. acidification. there is a tendency towards preservation of soils to promote its sustainable use (Blum. likely due to the innate difficulty of definition of soil (Carter. 2003). Doran (2002) postulated that soil management practices are primary determinants of SQ. 2011). and fiber. structural destruction. and SQ indicators must not only identify the condition of the soil resource but also define the economic and environmental sustainability of land management practices. several definitions were also created (e. Soil provides ecosystem services (benefits people obtain from the soil) such as food. since modifications in SQ could also warn the land manager to change a practice which is no longer suitable or needed.. loss of SOM. who defined SQ as the capacity of a soil to function within the limits of use. 1992. forestry. The most integrative definitions are those established by Doran and Parkin (1994) and Harris et al. 2005). Harris et al. Thus. which include agriculture. there is always a feedback interaction between SQ and the management practice selected. To our knowledge. forestry or urban environments can have negative or positive impacts on SQ. SOIL. environmental quality and human health. (1996). needed by land managers and decision makers to assess the economic. compactness. Zornoza et al. pollution. 2011). sealing. Major concerns about the effect of land use or management are incorporated to select suitable indicators. disease. 1994. providing evidence about the interrelationship between soil quality. Suitable management practices for each land use within each geographical area are essential to preserve soil functions and thus promote SQ. urban systems and land use changes. Thus. This paper aims to provide new insights through the review of soil quality assessments in different scenarios linked to forest management. 1. despite the different definitions for SQ.1 R. characteristics and functions. SQ is also connected to human health since soil can act as source and/or pathway of disease vectors. favoring the exhaustion of nutrients.174 1 1. which represent the concentration of a chemical or group of chemicals or pathogen in soil that should not be exceeded in order to prevent harmful effects (Rodríguez and Lafarga. and supporting services such as nutrient cycling (Millennium Ecosystem Assessment. salinization/alkalinization.. 2010). landscape and climate (ecosystem) to protect air and water quality. compromising the maintenance of further . or favoring trends in the opposite direction. Nonetheless. several economic activities depend on soil quality. (2010) suggested that this is because the links to human health are not evident for soil to the same extent as for water and air. etc. land management and human health Management practices in agriculture. floods..2 Interrelationship between soil quality.g. agricultural management. etc. as well as indirectly through shifts in SQ (Fig. since soils present high variability in properties. 2002). Doran and Parkin. soil quality standards (SQSs) are normally developed. 2010). Additionally. waste and water quality. biodiversity reduction. cultural services that provide recreational. owing to unsustainable land uses. there is no general consensus yet. and to sustain productivity and plants. 173–185. productivity. water.

probably owing to its high sensitivity and SOIL. there is not a general methodology to characterize SQ and define a set of indicators. 1997. which extract and recognize patterns in relationships among descriptive variables www. 2 Agricultural practices and soil quality indicators SQ has been assessed in agricultural systems in different agroclimatic regions and soil types under different crops and management practices. Despite computer modeling simplifying this process. This list was later extended. followed by pH. modified or extended in posterior studies. electrical conductivity (EC) and nutrients (indicators of soil fertility) (Table 1). water retention or movement of fauna (Burger and Kelting. SOC is the most used indicator for SQ assessments. 2008). Physical properties reflect limitation for the development of roots. infiltration. others prefer their combination into models or expressions in which various properties are involved (Fig. including biological properties by Doran and Parkin (1994). Physical indicators have been applied in about 70 % of the reviewed literature. 2). These expressions are called soil quality indices (SQI). mainly in nutrient recycling and soil aggregation (Doran and Zeiss. Biological indicators are more sensitive and rapidly respond to perturbations and changes in land use. Even though most authors assess SQ using different independent indicators. The selection of indicators of different nature (physical. Even though crop productivity is the main concern in agriculture due to economic issues. In recent years a new approach has emerged for integrating great amounts of data..: Identification of sensitive indicators 1. 1990). Flowchart of steps involved in soil quality assessment. 2015 . tracking ecological effects after land use changes or reducing risks to human health. Zornoza et al. Arias et al. 2005). 2000. aggregates stability and bulk density being the most common used. In the literature reviewed.. availability of nutrients and contaminants (Muckel and Figure 2.3 175 Approaches to assess soil quality and the selection of suitable indicators There is increasing acknowledgement and international interest in developing methodologies to characterize and define management practices which control degradation and enhance SQ. but due to the impossibility of considering them all. 2001). novel approaches that recognize relationships among highly disparate types of data associated with SQ are needed to assess the value of different indicators for guiding land management decisions. 173–185.R. chemical and biological) is essential to achieve a holistic image of SQ (Nannipieri et al. The chemical condition affects the soil–plant relations. Larson and Pierce (1991) (cited in Larson and Pierce. it is necessary to make a selection. 1994) suggested a minimum data set (MDS) for SQ assessment. A wide range of physical.. SQ indicators are measurable properties or characteristics which provide information about the ability of the soil to provide essential environmental services. in addition. play a direct role in the ecosystems processes. mainly microbial biomass carbon (MBC) or nitrogen (MBN) and enzymatic activities. chemical and biological properties are available to be measured on a routine basis. the artificial neural networks. Soil organic carbon (SOC) has been suggested as the most important single indicator of SQ and agricultural sustainability since it affects most soil properties (Reeves. with particle size. 2002). About 50 % of the authors incorporated biological properties. seedling emergence. monitoring changes in ecosystem sustainability. 2002). Assessment of SQ is needed to identify problems in production areas and to assist in formulation and evaluation of realistic agricultural and land use policies (Doran. A methodology is necessary to select indicators to assess SQ with the aim of identifying problems in productivity. water quality. which can help in determining SQ trends and thereby indicate whether one or more changes in practice are necessary (Karlen et al. soil organisms. buffering capacity. 1. 1996). Rillig. 1999). with the objective of standardizing methodologies and procedures at an international level. These proposals were further adapted. and are used to predict specific outputs variables (Mele and Crowley. Although many studies have been conducted on SQ assessment.soil-journal. 2004). Those attributes most sensitive to management practices or land use changes are the most adequate as indicators (Arshad and Martin. there is a need to maintain SQ to preserve global sustainability.

the authors made use of the Soil Management Assessment Framework (SMAF). MBC and mineralizable N (Table 1). 1999. silt. 173–185. international environmental concern about forest management has experienced a shift in research focus towards the sustainability of the forest ecosystem functions. being selected in most cases by means of multivariate analyses (such as principal component analysis (PCA)). 2015 R. and Delphi data set (indicators selected by the opinion of experts). which provide different goods and services. They concluded that results were similar regardless of the method or model applied. Si and Zn).. with water availability or water holding capacity (WHC). EC. even though they respond sensitively to land management practices (Doran and Zeiss. (2014a) calculated an SQI in acid sulfate paddy soils with different productivity. mainly the erodibility factor. (2009) observed that most soil properties measured in forest soils from southeastern Spain were highly correlated with SOC.176 ease of measuring. The adoption of SQIs under forest use has been less developed than for agroecosystems. These authors concluded that an IQI/MDS approach was the most suitable tool to evaluate the effects of land management practices on SQ. Fewer studies (around 40 % of the consulted literature) included organisms like earthworms and arthropods as indicators. Nonetheless.. SOC. nutrient levels. erwww. the most used indicators are SOC. Zornoza et al. 2012). Soil enzymes and the GMea were suitable to discriminate between a set of organic and comparable conventional olive oil orchard crops. (2014b) validated their SQI (Liu et al.. a pre-established SQI (Andrews et al. (2014) also used the SMAF to assess SQ in agrosystems where mulch was added. nematodes and MBC). Most authors have applied simple ratios. carbon sequestration. Banning et al. These authors concluded that these ratios are more effective for assessing SQ since they provide information about soil resilience. Nt. 2000). D’Hose et al. pH. SOC and N stratification ratios. the metabolic quotient or qCO2 (soil respiration to MBC). EC. Ca. Liu et al. (2014) assessed the relationship between SQ and crop production under different management practices by the adoption of the IQI. Nt. (2013) assessed SQ in two different soil types sampled at different depths. The majority of revised articles used the same methodology to establish an SQI. NH+ . Blecker et al. timber. SOC. MBC / SOC. SOIL. Andrews and Carroll.. clay and avail4 able water content have also been used by various authors. For these purposes. Miralles et al. such as water reservoirs. (2014) compared two sets of indicators – TDS (composed of 10 physical and chemical properties. 1.: Identification of sensitive indicators Merrill et al. There have been fewer attempts to calibrate SQIs based on other methodologies. cation exchange capacity (CEC) and several nutrients) and compared the IQI and NQI in combination with three methods for indicator selection: total data set (TDS). K. The authors highlighted that soil surface and subsurface properties should be integrated for SQ assessments. followed by pH. in recent years. likely because they are useful only at a local scale (Rousseau et al. based on scoring and weighing different soil indicators (Hussain et al. Despite the fact that most authors assess SQ by analysis and description of single indicators. Liu et al. 2014a) in low-productivity albic soils from eastern China. independently of its total content. which inform about the specific activity (per C unit) or performance of the organic matter. (2009) measured 14 chemical indicators (SOC. Previous research mainly focused on the assessment of SQ to promote highest forest productivity. These authors concluded that SQ was higher when farm compost was applied and SOC was pointed out as the most important indicator influencing crop production. García-Ruiz et al. 2000) by summation of the weighted scored indicators. Other indicators such as NO− 3. Qi et al. there has been a general concern about the importance of soil biological indicators and their ecological relevance for assessing SQ. Mg. showing lower SQ in systems with low productivity. pH.. SQIs are normally calculated using the integrated quality index equation (IQI) (Doran and Parkin. using five soil indicators selected by PCA (SOC. MBN / Nt.soil-journal. CEC and heavy metals) and MDS (indicators reduced by PCA) – and two different indices: IQI and NQI. 1994) or the Nemoro quality index equation (NQI) (Qin and Zhao. Na. The most common parameters used were pH. total nitrogen (Nt) and available P. enzyme activities / microbial biomass.. 2009. Nt. 3 Forest management and soil quality indicators About 31 % of the world’s land surface is covered by forests (FAO. They scored five soil chemical and biochemical indicators after their selection by PCA (pH. Rahmanipour et al. In the recent years. soil porosity and aggregate stability being the most common indicators. A MDS was used to create the index. biodiversity. ATP / MBC. 2001). which were integrated into an . 2004) which evaluates SQ on the basis of critical soil functions. In order to assess forest SQ. (2008) established an SQI by the calculation of the geometric mean of several enzyme activities (GMea). and observed significant correlations between the SQI and crop yield. MBC. 2011. others consider the importance of an SQI to relate SQ to crop production and management practices. etc. Physical attributes have been used in about 23 % of the reviewed literature.. 2012). and some authors have included microbial indicators such as microbial community composition in their studies (Zornoza et al. 2013). They established SQ indicators consisting of ratios to SOC. recreation. After indicators have been transformed using a linear or nonlinear scoring curve into unitless values and then weighted. concluding that MBC and β-glucosidase activity were the most responsive indicators to mulching and production systems. For instance. earthworms. MDS. bulk density. gum. Li et al. sand. such as C / N.

D’Hose et al. (2009). D’Hose et al. (2007). (2007). (2014). Leirós et al. Sanchez et al. (2013) Microbial biomass carbon and/or nitrogen Ergosterol/fungal mycelium Bi et al. Li et al. 173–185. b) Bulk density Qi et al. D’Hose et al. García-Ruiz et al. (2013) Santorufo et al. (2014) Giacometti et al. (2014) Cation exchange capacity Pang et al. (2013). (2012) Burger and Kelting (1999) Rousseau et al. Gavrilenko et al. (1999) Jiménez-Esquilín et al. (2013) Carbon mineralization Enzyme activities Burger and Kelting (1999) Biau et al. (2014) Armenise et al. (2014). (2014) Human health Murray et al. (1999). (2014). Leirós et al. Zornoza et al. (2009). D’Hose et al. (2007. (2013).net/1/173/2015/ Murray et al. Rousseau et al. (2006). (2014). (2011). (2012) Qi et al. Amacher et al. Zhao et al. (2014b). (2009). (2010). Li et al. Gavrilenko et al. Veum et al. Sepehrnia et al. (2011) Marzaioli et al. (2007). Zornoza et al. b) Total nitrogen Forest systems Franzluebbers (2002). (2014) Rodrigues et al. (2014a) Nitrogen mineralization García-Ruiz et al. b). (2013). (2012). (2011). (2007). (2009). Merrill et al. Liu et al. Merrill et al. Veum et al. Santorufo et al. Qi et al. Blecker et al. Marzaioli et al. (2012) Particle size Qi et al. (2010). (2013) Merrill et al. Zhao et al. (2010). (2010) Marzaioli et al. (2009). (2014a). Merril et al.soil-journal. Landa-Cansigno et al. Chaer et al. (2013). (2012). (2014). Leirós et al. (2013) Liang et al. Zornoza et al. (2009). Chaer et al. Qi et al. (2009). (2007). Singh et al. Liu et al. (2010). (2010) Papa et al. Liu et al. (2010). Rafiq et al. (2014) Electrical conductivity Burger and Kelting (1999). Santorufo et al. (2013). D’Hose et al. 1. Amacher et al. (2012). Qin et al. (2013). (2014) Marzaioli et al. (2013) Wenrui et al. (2010) Urban systems Rodrigues et al. R. Veum et al. (2006). 2013) Soluble carbon and/or nitrogen Pang et al. (2010). Landa-Cansigno et al. (2013). (2013). Rodrigues et al. Qin et al. (2010). Merrill et al. (2013) Papa et al. (2012a. (2013). (2014). D’Hose et al. (2007) Veum et al. (2014) Hankard et al. Pelfrêne et al. Santorufo et al. (2011). Amacher et al. Liu et al. (2008).: Identification of sensitive indicators 177 SOIL. Zornoza et al. Giacometti et al. Blecker et al. (2014). (2014) Porosity Burger and Kelting (1999). (2013). Singh et al.(2013). (2014). Rousseau et al. Amacher et al. (2010) Li et al. (2012). Gavrilenko et al. Zornoza et al. (2012a. Li et al. Benami et al. (2008). Ceuppens et al. Rafiq et al. 2008a) Pathogens Biau et al. (1998). Rahmanipour et al. (2011) Rousseau et al. (2014) Rodrigues et al. Cachada et al. (2009). (2013). (2014) Soil organic carbon Organic pollutants Agricultural systems Soil indicator Table 1. Mataix-Solera et al. (2014a. (2007). 2015 . (2010). Amacher et al. Laird and Chang (2013). 2008a) Marzaioli et al. (2013) Trasar-Cepeda et al. (2012). D’Hose et al. b) Rodrigues et al. (2010). Veum et al. (2012a) Rafiq et al. Veum et al. (2009). (2014) Heavy metals Wang and Wang (2011). 2008a) Marzaioli et al. (2014) Rodrigues et al. Gavrilenko et al. (2011). (2012a. (1998). (2012) Trasar-Cepeda et al. (2014) Marzaioli et al. (2009). (2013) Peijnenburg et al. Zhao et al. (2009) Available water content/water holding capacity Qi et al. (2013). (2012a. (2011). (2010) Soil aggregation Merrill et al. (2009). (2010). (2009). (2012). (2005). (2014) pH Trasar-Cepeda et al. Marzaioli et al. Santorufo et al. Marzaioli et al. (1998). (2014) Landa-Cansigno et al. (2013). (2014) Landa-Cansigno et al. (2007. (2014b) Biau et al. Laird and Chang (2013) Penetration resistance Trasar-Cepeda et al. (2014). (1999). (2013). (2014) Zornoza et al. (2014). (2014) Murray et al. (2014) Singh et al. Moscatelli et al. (2007). (2014) Marzaioli et al. (2014) Available nutrients Zornoza et al. (2013). Pang et al. Banning et al. Veum et al. (2009). (2013). Li et al. D’Hose et al. Most common indicators used in soil quality assessment under different land uses and approaches. (2006). Rahmanipour et al. Cachada et al. Veum et al. (2014). Rahmanipour et al. Li et al. (2011). (2008). (2010). Pang et al. (2014) Armenise et al. (1998). (2009) Marzaioli et al. Rousseau et al.(2013). (2014) Merrill et al. (2013) Liang et al. (2009). Rahmanipour et al. (2014). (2007. (2007) Land use changes Marzaioli et al. (2012). (2013). (2009). Rafiq et al. (2013). Papa et al. Zornoza et al. b) Papa et al. Gavrilenko et al. (2014) Ruiz et al. (2010). (2010). Liu et al. (2009) Zornoza et al. Chaer et al. (2006). (2014) Invertebrates Microbial communities D’Hose et al. (2013) Marzaioli et al. Li et al. Rahmanipour et al. (2013) Murray et al.www. Zornoza et al. Toledo et al. (2013). (2006). Pang et al. Ramos et al. (2013). Laird and Chang (2013). Singh et al. Rousseau et al. (2007). (2007). Veum et al.

Contrary to the common procedure. these authors did not reduce the quantity of indicators before calculating the SQI. while SOC > 5 % was assigned an index value of 2. Land uses have a strong impact on the level of SOC. Dinesh et al. Chaer et al. has not been generalized. 2012. or fungal / bacteria biomass (Trasar-Cepeda et al. (2013) evaluated natural forest. Microbial biomass and enzyme activity have been widely used to assess impacts of land use changes on SQ. Zhao et al. soils in a transient status. nutrient supply. likely because they are limited to the area and situation in which they have been described (Gil-Sotres et al. 2002. Zornoza et al. and calculated a value for each identified PC as the summation of each indicator value multiplied by its loading. (2009) calibrated an SQI using multiple linear regressions with SOC as a combination of MBC and phosphatase activity. The authors strongly recommend the measurement of the 19 selected soil properties. For instance. 1. (2012) reported that MBC was highly sensitive to shifts in land use. pH. land misuse can cause degradation of soil as a consequence of reducing SOC levels (Lal. TrasarCepeda et al. Burger and Kelting (1999) provided an index to assess the net effect of forest management using different soil physical. concluding that it can be used for the rapid evaluation of soil degradation. They applied PCA to 14 physical and chemical indicators. (2008a) in 11 undisturbed forest soils. Overall. Zornoza et al. the development of algorithms in which different indicators are combined. The IFI was calculated as the summation of each weighted PC. confirming previous evidence of a balance in soil properties in undisturbed soils. Franzluebbers. confirming their viability and accuracy. Nunes et al. Pang et al. water supply. Zhao et al. since using less quantity could provide a distorted assessment of soil quality. SOC or respiration. 2009).. and assigned an individual index value for each category. (1998) obtained a biochemical SQI using natural soils under climax vegetation where Nt can be estimated by means of multiple linear regression using MBC. The authors found that IFI was highly correlated with tree growth. chemical and biological indicators (pH. The simple index most used in the reviewed literature is the qCO2 . which suggests a balance among soil properties. park. In comparison to forest. 2014). based on the calculation of a soil property via multiple regressions. water content.. These authors concluded that C sequestration in cropland through appropriate land management can be suitable when forestland is limited by bedrock surfaces. This ratio has resulted a suitable indicator to prowww. Toledo et al. (2014) revealed that conversion of Ethiopian croplands to grasslands or integration of appropriate agroforestry trees in cropping fields has a huge potential for C sequestration. (2014) observed that replacing meadows with pine plantations under a temperate climate influences enzyme activities and nutrient cycling. . Conversion of croplands to grasslands has been elucidated as a successful approach for C sequestration (Chen et al. available water capacity. Nt and nutrients) with the aim of creating a tool for establishing baselines and detecting forest health trends in USA. 2005). Land conversion from native forest to cropland is prone to soil C losses (Camara-Ferreira et al. 1998. pH.soil-journal. The SQI is then calculated as the summation of all individual soil property index values. 2009. and biological activity). Amacher et al. soil management that leads to an accumulation of SOC is related to ecosystem benefits. Albaladejo et al. can be proposed as a promising strategy for C sequestration with special emphasis on arid and semiarid areas that are usually degraded by SOC losses. sufficiency for gas exchange. This methodology... (2007) obtained. chemical and biological indicators such as porosity. selecting threshold levels according to its functional significance in soil.. inorganic C. under semiarid Mediterranean conditions. (2007) developed an SQI that integrated 19 physical and chemical properties (bulk density. since it distinguished between high-quality soils. 2015 R. 4 Land use changes and soil quality Changes in land use are human-derived impacts with high affection in ecosystem functioning. SOC. enzyme activity was sensitive to human-induced alterations in a land use sequence from natural forest pastures and shrublands (Tischer et al. CEC. EC and enzyme activities). 2014). and degraded soils. Mijangos et al. has also been used by other authors. which has been widely used as indicator of SQ (Table 1). this balance being disrupted after perturbations. However.: Identification of sensitive indicators indicator into different categories. These indices were further validated by Zornoza et al. 2004). They applied the principles proposed by Gale et al. aggregate stability. 2014). WHC. which greatly contributes to reducing time and resources. two SQIs to assess soil degradation by estimation of SOC through linear combination of physical. 173–185. These authors arranged each soil SOIL. mineralizable N and enzyme activities as independent variables. the practice of growing trees and crops in interacting combinations on the same unit of land. Despite this fact. MBC was lower for the rest of land uses but functional diversity was higher in the roadside-tree soils. using only two soil indicators to create an SQI does not provide enough information about soil processes and functioning. SOC < 1 % was assigned an index value of 0.. This index was validated by Leirós et al. climate and disturbance practices. (2006) established an integrated fertility index (IFI) in forest soils from China with the objective of detecting changes in soil fertility in relation to vegetation. In Brazilian semiarid ecosystems.178 gosterol / MBC. (2013) studied the effect of climate with regards to land use in southeastern Spain. street garden and roadside tree land uses using MBC and microbial functional diversity as indicators. agriculture. However. 2003. Moreover. (1991). and the SQI was calculated as the summation of five weighted indicators (sufficiency for root growth.. (1999) in soils disturbed by contamination and tillage. MataixSolera et al. Gelaw et al..

Cref (sample) is the content of the reference element in the sample and Bref is the content of the reference element in the reference soil. (2010) established an SQI (without minimum data set selection) using physical. Hence. Veum et al. an intermediate SQ in shrublands. grazing lands. SOC and pH played an important role in mitigating the toxicity of metals. respiration and fungal mycelium. MBC. Indicators related to nitrogen cycling (urease. being the community more abundant and diverse in the soils with high SOM and water content and low metal concentrations.. Singh et al. most research has dealt with the distribution and dispersion of pollutants (Davidson et al. urban soil receives a major proportion of pollutants from industrial.. Papa et al. SOC. proteinase) and SOC were found to be the most sensitive indicators. Rodrigues et al. 173–185. these authors highlighted that SOC and exchangeable Al were the two most powerful indicators of SQ in the eastern Himalayan region of India. Szolnoki et al. (2006b). 1. 2008). using for these purposes the SMAF with indicators such as aggregate stability. These authors concluded that the concentrations of metals are not the dominant factor controlling variability in SQ.. coniferous forest and middle-hill olive grove. The SQI was evaluated in alpine grasslands with different levels of degradation. 2001). other indicators such as particle size distribution. enrichment factor (EFi = [Ci –sample/Cref –sample] / [Bi –background/Bref – background]). CEC. pH and CEC should be included in urban SQ studies to integrate soil functions with pollution effects (Pouyat et al. 2003). and some of them have been recently applied to assess the impact of land use changes on SQ. However. proportion of primary plant and height of the plant. They concluded that this SEI was correlated with MBC and thus reflects the ecological function of the soil. 2003. Sutherland. The taxa more resistant to the urban environment included Acarina. commercial and domestic activities (Cheng et al. Wong et 179 2006. Santorufo et al. bulk density. Besides heavy metals. production. several simple indices have been developed and applied in urban soil for heavy metal pollution (Muller. to assess urban SQ... Ci (sample) is the metal concentration (i). EC. which was created for agricultural soils. 2006a). Nt.. SQ was greatest under native. Fifteen indicators (chemical. (2009) studied the influence of metal concentration and soil properties on urban SQ. There are several methods based on single or sequential schemes of chemical extraction to determine the availability of metals in urban soils (Li et al. 2000): a geo-accumulation index (Igeo = log2 [Ci / 1. Li et al. Rodrigues et al. Ruiz et al. Therefore. perennial vegetation. metals can be present in soils with different speciation. 5 Urban management and soil quality indicators Soil is an essential element in urban ecosystems (Luo et al. 2014). Enchytraeidae. and a high SQ in mixed forests.. 1969.. The establishment of multiparametric indices has been used as an adequate tool for integrating greater information of soil quality. particle size. MBC. (2014) selected indicators from a data set of 29 soil properties by PCA and produced an SQI which indicated that SQ in the natural forest land and grasslands was higher than in the cultivated sites.. where n is the number of measured elements. SOC. Bastida et al. bulk density. The authors observed a low SQ in almost all permanent crops.. or by establishment of different simple indices. respiration and eight enzyme activities. and declined with increasing levels of soil disturbance resulting from cultivation.R. (2010) determined urban SQ evaluating the influence of soil trace metal concentrations in relation to distance from urban roads on MBC. to assess SQ in different ecosystems including urban areas. since the largest effects were found in soils with high metal concentrations. (2012b) studied soil invertebrates as bioindicators of urban SQ. chemical and biological indicators such as aggregate stability. (2013) measured the impact of human disturbances in SQ.. 2006. (2012a) assessed urban SQ by integrating chemical and ecotoxicological approaches. Gavrilenko et al. pollution index (PI = Ci / Bi ).5Bi ]). The SEI is a product of several indices accounting for seven physical and chemical properties and for the climatic characteristics of the region. 2008). mineralizable N and nutrients. and so with different bioavailability and solubility. (2011) elaborated an index of biological soil quality (IBSQ) based on macroinvertebrates and concluded that well-managed crops and pastures may have better SQ than some forests. pH and SOM must be considered to affect this variability. WHC. Urban soil pollution is normally assessed by relating pollutant levels to the environmental guidelines. Santorufo et al. SOIL.. nutrients. SOC. 2012). EC.. Bi (background) is the baseline concentration. Marzaioli et al. the soluble or bioavailable fractions of the metals should be taken into account besides total concentrations (Rodrigues et al. Since pollution is the factor which drives the most intense degradation in urban environments (Zhang et al. Collembola and Nematoda. 2013). pH. which has often been ignored in urban systems. pH.soil-journal. integrated pollution index (IPI = 6 PI /n). Interestingly. based on plant cover. observing a negative relationship between microbial activity and metal concentration. 2006.: Identification of sensitive indicators vide evidence of soil perturbation after deforestation or other land use changes (Dilly et al. www. urban SQ must be included in urban management practices by selection of appropriate indicators (Vrscaj et al. However. In this context. MBN / Nt. and soil texture. Zornoza et al. They revealed that the toxicity to invertebrates seemed to be related to heavy metals. 2013). 2015 . physical and biological) were used to build up the SQI after selection of a MDS by PCA. (2013) used the soil-ecological index (SEI). (2014) evaluated SQ of perennial vegetation plots in comparison to agricultural soils under no tillage or conventionally treated plots. However. developing an SQI based on Bastida et al.

However. Very few studies treat the problem of soil organic pollution and human health. Pelfrêne et al. and the persistent sporulated Clostridium (e. it could be stated that soils with low bioconcentration factors are less hazardous for a population. Despite the broad concern about soil pollution and human health. (2009) established the levels of different pollutants in soil and assessed the affection to the population by bioaccessibility evaluations (e.g.. 2011. quantify and model. Zhao et al.. 2008).. possibly due to the higher difficulty in analysis and identification. are gaining acceptance (Murray et al. (2011) related the presence of pathogens/parasites to SQ. (2012) found that SOC was an important factor for polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons and organochlorides retention in soils. 2006. (2000) identified that Se bioavailability in villages from China with high Se toxicity was controlled by pH. pH or clay content. Liang et al.. 173–185. which describe the concentration of an element in a biological tissue relative to the concentration in the soil. The source–pathway–receptor pollutant linkage has been used extensively in the risk assessment of polluted soils. very few studies directly and explicitly relate pollution to SQ and how deterioration of SQ can affect human wellbeing (Poggio et al. body weight. persistence and movement with time in terms of different soil characteristics and management practices (Benami et al. Shigella sp. although not explicitly. and dermal contact (Collins et al. Abrahams (2002)... 2010). They postulated that health-risk-based decision making may help to manage associated costs and to identify priority sites with regard to health risks. Even though it is not recognized as an SQI.g. 2013.. and temporal decay through physicochemical and biological processes. Pelfrêne et al. A potential risk exists if there is a source of pollutants. 2013). inhalation. no other soil properties are measured together with the target contaminant to relate its dynamics and fate. ingestions/inhalation/adhesion rates.. specifically SOM quantity and quality.. The sanitary status of the soil is evaluated on the basis of indicator bacteria. Nadal et al. Landa-Cansigno et al. and a pathway linking both (Bone et al. (2011) reported the need to include soil characteristics.. a receptor sensitive to the pollutant at the exposure level. Zornoza et al. Pelfrêne et al. This allows better allocation of available resources and identification of necessary actions that are protective of human health. the study of soil pollutants has been an important topic in the literature. indicating that a systematic monitoring of the soil ecosystems must include bacteriological parameters to obtain information adequate for assessing their overall quality.180 6 Soil quality indicators directly related to human health Relating the state of the soil to effects on human wellbeing is a challenging task. which relate the concentration of the pollutant in soil to SQS. Sjöström et al.. Benami et al. Risk assessment aims to characterize the potential adverse health effects of human exposures to environmental hazards (Murray et al.soil-journal. pH.. The study of Rafiq et al. 2013)... and thus they should be considered when aswww. Ceuppens et al. Soil can be a source of pollutants with humans as a receptor through pathways such as direct ingestion of soil particles. 2014). Voidarou et al. Cachada et al. 2011. Zhao et al. In the attempt to assess the mobility of trace elements and thus to quantify their transmission from soil to other organisms. ingestion of plants or animals which bioaccumulated the contaminants. faecal streptococci. exposure time or exposure frequency (Masto et al. suggesting that SOM controls Se uptake by rice and thus increases hazards to human health. (2011) concluded that the inclusion of bioavailability analyses during health risk assessment (fraction of pollutant that is soluble in the gastrointestinal environment and potentially available for absorption) would provide a more realistic assessment of heavy metal exposure than traditional measurements. Because of these reasons. 2013). 2008. 2011. All revised articles identify different taxonomic groups in soil and monitor their survival. 2011.. related SQ and human health by stating the deleterious impacts that soil properties pose to human societies. 2012). (2014) was the only study dealing with health risk assessment that established SQ standards for potential dietary toxicity to humans. usually Escherichia coli. protozoa or nematodes (Landa-Cansigno et al. It has been reported that SOM. taking into account the potential exposure pathways. Sepehrnia et al. 2014). in vitro simulators of human digestion) or development of exposure scenarios and health hazard equations. They observed that soil pH. when setting threshold criteria for metal content under human risk evaluations. (2013) observed that SOIL. traditional SQ assessment should include health-risk-based indicators such as pollutants or pathogens. Murray et al. In general. Fordyce et al. 2013).. 1. Since soil pollution is a threat to public health. Masto et al. 2011. Most studies about soil pollution deal with the presence of heavy metals. the use of bioaccumulation or bioconcentration factors.. SOM or clay . Kentel et al. Qin et al.. (2012) reported that the spatial patterns of the heavy metal concentrations and soil pH indicated that the areas with the highest human health risk did not directly coincide with the areas of highest heavy metal concentrations but instead with the areas of lower soil pH. (2011) highlighted the importance of taking into account the human health perspective on SQ assessment. The levels of pollutants that reach humans through the above pathways are normally calculated by the use of different quotients or equations.. 2013.. being that it is difficult to monitor..: Identification of sensitive indicators the concentration of Se in rice plants was associated with the soil fraction bound to SOM.g.. 2011). 2015 R.. Salmonella sp. EC and clay contents are determinant on the adsorption capacity of pathogen bacteria. Some of these studies also use protozoa or helminths (e. CEC and SOM were the main factors which influenced the Cd bioavailability in different soil types. Wenrui et al. It has been assessed that there are physicochemical soil characteristics controlling metal availability such as pH.

M. C. Appl.: Soil Microbial Community Successional Patterns during Forest Ecosystem Restoration. Fort Collins.. Environmental improvement – agriculture’s challenge in the seventies.. D. 291. S. Total nitrogen and nutrient content are often used in agricultural and forest systems. Andrews. Rocky Mountain Research Station. coli progressively declined with the reduction of microbial community diversity. 2013.. Agr. SOIL. S. Armenise. the integration of these new parameters into soil quality index is still a challenge. L. D. S. the establishment of a global index for general use seems to be difficult at present due to the wide range of soils. National Academy of Sciences. A review of different soil quality assessment studies indicated that there is an increased concern of using indicators of different nature to assess soil quality. Washington.: The soil management assessment framework: a quantitative soil quality evaluation method. Biological indictors are less generalized in the literature. M. Almagro. for it is accurate. P. The complexity of the soil microbial community can also affect the survival of pathogens. M. productivity and ecosystems quality but also human health. 1. Ecol. available water and aggregate stability are the most widely used parameters. Appl. J.: Identifying critical limits for soil quality indicators in agro-ecosystems... E. 2005. Res. J. 13– 181 the functionality of microbial populations in soil. A. Environ. C. conditions and management practices. Albaladejo. B. and Cambardella. Further efforts should be carried out to establish new methodologies to assess not only soil quality in terms of sustainability. C. might be potentially used as indicators of soil quality (Bastida et al. 68. Stellacci. L. and García. D. L. 173–185. Nevertheless. F. C. Brodie... 2007.. M.. The application and development of new methodologies such as stable isotopes.. Karlen. H.. F. González-Pérez. Zornoza et al.fed. Andersen. C. Microbiol. J. 88. J.. V.soil-journal. M. W. Edited by: A. with the result that soil quality assessments where human health indicators or exposure pathways are incorporated are practically inexistent. Andrews. P. Bastida... Soil Biol. Soc. 2013.. Biochem. 130.. García-Pintado.. with enzyme activities and microbial biomass being the most common indicators used on a routine basis in agricultural and forest systems. particle size distribution. 2008b). 2015 . Ortiz. Pap.: Soils: their implications to human health. L. S.. Liang et al. Ruíz-Navarro... Arias. 11. and Ball. Moreno. N.: Agriculture’s responsibility in establishing soil quality criteria. González-Vila. USA. A. García-Franco. H. 8. A. genomic and proteomic tools addressing the structure of microbial communities. Ecosyst. 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