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EVALUATION OF SOIL QUALITY AND BIODIVERSITY IN ITALY

:
THE BIOLOGICAL QUALITY OF SOIL INDEX (QBS) APPROACH

Parisi, Vittorio1, Menta, Cristina1, Gardi, Ciro2 & Jacomini, Carlo3 (presenter).
1
Dept. of Evolutionary and Functional Biology, section Museum of Natural History, University of Parma, via Farini,
90, 43100 Parma, Italy. E–mail: mus.st.nat@unipr.it; cristina.menta@unipr.it.
2
Dept. of Environmental Sciences, University of Parma, Viale delle Scienze, 43100 Parma, Italy.
E-mail: ciro.gardi@unipr.it
3
APAT, Italian Agency for Environment Protection and Technical Services, Via V. Brancati, 48, 00144, Rome,
Italy. E–mail: jacomini@apat.it

Abstract
Traditional approach to soil quality evaluation was based on the use of physical, chemical and
microbiological indicators. Recently, different authors proposed new methods, based on soil
microarthropods, for soil quality evaluation. Soil microarthropods demonstrated to respond sensitively to
land management practices and to be correlated with beneficial soil functions. In Italy, a new approach
(called QBS), based on the biological forms of edaphic microarthropods has been proposed to assess soil
biological quality (Parisi, 2001). A first QBS index, named QBS-ar, is based on microarthropod groups
present in a soil sample. Each biological form found in the sample receives a score from 1 to 20 (Eco-
Morphological Index, EMI), according to its adaptation to soil environment. The QBS index sums up these
scores, thereby characterising the microarthropod community of the sample being studied. A second index,
QBS-c, based on collembolan eco-morphological forms, is under verification. The QBS-ar has already
been applied on a range of both soil types and land uses in Northern Italy, and other researches evaluated
the reliability of this method to assess biological quality of soil in different situations.
Keywords
Soil ecology, Quality Index, QBS, microarthropods, Collembola, Biological Forms

Introduction

A common criterion to evaluate long-term sustainability of ecosystems is to assess the fluctuations of soil
quality (Schoenholtz et al., 2000). Soil, as a matter of fact, is a mirror for ecosystem metabolism; within
soils, all bio-geo-chemical processes of the different ecosystem components are combined (Dylis, 1964).
Indicators of soil health or quality should answer at least to the following criteria (Doran e Zeiss, 2000): 1)
sensitivity to variations of soil management; 2) good correlation with the beneficial soil functions; 3)
helpfulness to reveal ecosystem processes; 4) comprehensibility and utility for land managers; 5) economy
and ease to measure.
Difficulties appear while trying to determine specific criteria for soil quality, mostly because of the
intrinsic variability of the different soils and the discrepancies both in time and space scales.
From such awareness, the need to use also biological monitoring arises to correctly assess soil degradation
and correlated risks (Eijsackers, 1983; Turco et al., 1994). In particular, there is a strong need to identify
systems of indicators capable to express soil quality criteria, to be used as benchmarks in environmental
remediation, as well as to assess and monitor soil quality in soils subject to degradation risk (Gisotti, 1997;
van Straalen, 1998; ANPA, 2002a, 2002b).
The increasing recognition of problems deriving from soil degradation contributed to identify soil fauna
research as a focal priority in soil quality assessments (Bongers, 1990, 1999; van Straalen & Krivolutsky,
1996; Pankhurst, 1997; van Straalen, 1997; Pankhurst et al., 1997). As for water and air (Ghetti, 1997;
ANPA, 2001a, 2001b), a biocoenose approach provided to be the right focus where to concentrate efforts
on soil biological research.
Most edaphic animals perform life cycles strictly depending on the hosting environment, interacting with
soil in several different ways. Therefore, soil zoocoenoses have been recognised as important descriptors

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homogeneous for slope.g. Taking apart the upper plant cover. Extraction of microarthropods Samples have to be carried in the lab protected by thermal shock and soil fauna has to be extracted within 48 hours from sampling. the higher will be the number of microarthropod groups well adapted to soil habitat. 2) microarthropods extraction. 2001). QBS Index is based on the following concept: the higher is soil quality. In general. As a matter-of-fact. in this sense are a key component of soil biota. 2001). The extraction system should be kept away from vibrations and other disturbs. and not requiring the complex and troublesome taxonomic identification at the species level. Mesofauna groups. reduction or loss of flying. is delimited where to collect samples. A simple and cheap Berlese-Tullgren funnel (25 cm diameter. their life time and natural history allow to obtain interesting considerations on soil ecological conditions and. 60 W lamp at ca. a representative area. and sampling as separate samples the litter. several species belonging to this group have already been recognised as useful biological indicators of soil quality. QBS computation results easy to be used also by non-specialists. Sampling In the study station.e. 2 . edaphic microarthropods show morphological characters that reveal their adaptation level to soil environment. 2 mm mesh. Bullini et al. Jacomini et al. streamlined body form. it is important to use methodologies that allow highlighting either the number of species present or the processes and roles that they play. To be able to evaluate their role and function. The soil core is delicately placed on the mesh above the funnel and all the soil fallen during sample disposal is put again on the mesh before inserting a bottle of preservative liquid (2 parts ethanol 75% and 1 part glycerol) beneath the funnel. Main phases for calculation of QBS in a sampling station are: 1) sampling.of environmental quality. Their number is outstanding. legs). 2000). lack of hydrophobic compounds on the outer surface (Parisi.. reduced water-retention capacity – e. As illustrated in table 1. antennae. labeled and closed before taking it away from light and heat.i. QBS is applied to soil microarthropods. A square soil corer can be used if soil structure and tree roots allow it. a 10 x 10 cm area is dug up to 10 cm depth. Periodic sampling can be limited to one single sample: for QBS calculation. such as: reduction or loss of pigmentation and visual apparatus. 1971). with reduced and more compact appendages (hairs. population density and related spatial distribution may be overlooked.was proposed (Parisi. the area covered during their life cycle is strictly representative of the site under examination. an incomplete knowledge acquired on biogeography and auto-ecology of mesofauna hindered a complete application of this important soil food-web compartment. thinner cuticle. 5) calculation of QBS Index (Parisi. 3) setting the collected specimens. soil invertebrate-based indices consider the consistency and richness of populations (van Straalen. the integrated QBS Index . exposition and plant vegetation (if present).. namely Biological Quality of Soil . It is recommended to define the pedological profile and to collect soil samples also for chemical and physical analyses. Most recently. 1998). Samples for QBS calculation have to be collected when soil is wet and not after heavy rain. Focusing on the presence of these characters. 1998. 1974. 1974). 4) determination of biological forms. with the double intent to: 1) evaluate microarthropods’ level of adaptation to underground life (Parisi. The sample is posed in a plastic bag. “Qualità Biologica del Suolo”. 25 cm distance) can be used. finally. separated according to the life-form approach (Sacchi & Testard. their role in soil formation and transformation is well-recognised. jumping or running adaptations. and 2) overcome the well-known difficulties in taxonomic analysis at species level for edaphic mesofauna.

three taxa play a major role: Protura. 40%formic aldehyde. epi-edaphic (surface-living) forms score EMI=1. 2001). glycerol. is currently under validation.4 proportions.are therefore separated. Onychiurid. eu-edaphic (i. the EMI values associated to each microarthropods group are reported in table 2. the biological form with the higher EMI value is recorded.Extraction duration (never less than 5 days) will be proportionate to water content in the sample. for the transformation process. and have shown to be very sensitive to variations in soil environment. The sum of EMIs for the six collembolan groups is the value of QBS-c Index. intermediate) forms achieve a count proportionate to their degree of specialization. as shown in table 5. they show a good variety of morphological features that are easier to detect and to assess (as described in table 3 and in our other paper for this event). Collembola are also among the most abundant soil microarthropods. According to this specific index. for Collembola and Coleoptera. EMI=20. Other groups display a range of EMI values (e. Collembolans are separated into six groups: Podurid. as determined by appropriate falling curve (Parisi. 1974. deep soil-living) forms get an EMI=20. Entomobryd. Due to this reasons. Whenever two eco-morphological forms are present for a same group.. pouring the animals and the liquid in Petri dishes or similar. because all species belonging to these groups are eu-edaphic.g. Isotomid. Gardi et al. as. 1993). and owing to the difficulties to outline easy-to detect eco-morphological characteristics. 3 .e.e. It is quite clear that. that are easy to be recognised. the QBS-c.. The increasing values of the classes correspond to more complex and soil-adapted microarthropods communities. Determination of biological forms Biological forms – eco-morphologically homogeneous groups . It will be slightly shorter for litter. Specimens setting Extracted specimens are observed under a stereomicroscope at low magnification (range 5-100x. the most adapted degree of specialization to soil life shown by specimens belonging to a group determines the overall EMI score for that group.g. the QBS-ar scores can be transformed into 7 soil quality classes. EMIs allow associating a value to each microarthropod group. one based on total microarthropods (“QBS-ar”) and a second one based only on Collembola species (“QBS-c”) (Parisi. for Protura and Diplura EMI=20. Whenever it might be useful to render collembolans more transparent for taxonomic identification. In other words. EMI=1-20). As a general rule. To calculate the QBS score of a sample. because these groups have species with different soil adaptation levels. Acari get a unique score. usually 20-40 x are sufficient) in the same preservative liquid. as shown in table 2 (Parisi. Two different types of QBS Index were proposed. and their respective Eco-Morphologic Indexes (EMIs) are reckoned. after soil extraction. 2001. a specific index for Collembola group. Neelid and Sminthurid. they are put in Gisin (1960) liquid: lactic acid. For each group. the final score is decided by the higher EMI. it is sufficient to sum up the EMIs of all groups collected there. according to its soil adaptation characteristics. Onychiurid Collembola and Coleoptera. Some groups obtain a single EMI value: e. For QBS-ar calculation.. Górny & Grüm. because it is almost impossible to get a soil sample without them.. hemi-edaphic (i. 2002). Quality Classes based on QBS To communicate QBS results to policy makers and other stakeholders at regional/national levels. in 10:2:0. Moreover. Statistical analyses have shown that these groups provide good and reliable characters.

natural reserves.. It is well recognised that the highly variable abundances of microarthropods in soil samples are dependent from several local variables and need statistical studies to be correctly assessed (Phillipson. 2002b). The first results of these studies are the scope of a related paper (Gardi et al. experimental agricultural fields. 2003). On the contrary. more particularly for soil issues. In Italy.. Available from the Internet <URL: http://www... the Oribatid/Other Acari ratio (Aoki. Onychiurids were found and the QBS was lower than 50. 1977) or the Acari/Collembola ratio (Bachelier. 1990). Rutgers et al. Behan Pelletier. the exposed Quality Classes might be revised and updated. 2002a. Baratti et al. In some cases. QBS is at present under investigation from the following areas: urban soils. They have been used to synthesise information on state of the environment for management and political purposes (Müller et al. and is therefore considered an appropriate tool for large-scale monitoring on a great number of samples. to thoroughly characterise a site.. 1997).consecol.142. since its calculation does not require counting. such as ants (Andersen. 1967. Oribatid Mites (Bernini et al. QBS is innovative. ANPA.. considering the existing well-known techniques that allow affordable and effective soil microarthropod extraction at low costs.MI for predatory mites (Ruf. References Andersen. Compared with methods that use a single taxon as biological indicator. 1995. it is recommended not to take into account a single trophic level in soil food-webs (van Straalen e Bergema. It is considered a favourable tool in the fields of Ecological Risk Assessment. nor single species present in the sample. 1997.. widening the range of QBS application.N. 1998. as well as a first warning signal in Soil Degradation Evaluation. plain woods and burned forests.> 4 . recolonisation soils in quarries. and therefore may be useful also in desertification-prone areas. Besides providing good results in shorter time. biocoenose structure is less fluctuating and it can more easily be used to assess soil degradation or to evaluate soil maturity level. it is possible that. terrestrial isopods (Paoletti & Hassal. some Regional Environmental Protection Agencies have been already launched QBS training courses and application programmes for soil monitoring networks. the decreased times for operators training raise its applicability. compost. 1997. Conservation Ecology [on line] 1 (1): 8. 1998). or the Maturity Index . Environmental indicators represent very complex conditions in an extremely condensed form. 2000).Distinction between class 2 and 3 seems to be critical.. Using Ants as Bioindicators: Multiscale Issues in Ant Community Ecology.66/pub/www/Journal/vol1/iss1/art8/inline. Conclusions Indicators are useful tools to manipulate information whenever an object is extremely complex. If compared to different indices such as the Quality Index . Ecological Indicators have a two-fold main function: to decrease the number of measures and parameters that normally should be requested to represent a situation. Iturrondobeitia et al.IQ (Casarini et al. 1995. 1999). Nevertheless. Onychiurids were absent and the QBS-ar was higher than 50. to help defining soil ecological quality benchmarks. neither the individual specimens of every group.org/vol1/iss1/art8. Environmental Impact Studies. sewage sludge-treated agro-ecosystems. or http://139. Monitoring of Remediation Processes in Contaminated Sites. A. 2000.. 2000). 1999. This is particularly true for environmental problems. 1986). Aoki et al. QBS does not require a species-level diagnosis. To evaluate soil contamination and the efficacy of remediation procedures.203. The QBS approach – a fast characterization of edaphic populations from a sampling station – shows evident applicability interest. 1971). USEPA. and to simplify the communication process through which information of collected data is addressed to final user. in other cases. These two cases should be identified indicating respectively “2/3” and “3/2” classes.

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1997) Described Soil Species Global Biogeographical Synthesis Micro-organisms Bacteria & Archaea 3 200 (1) no Fungi 18 .35 000 no AM Fungi 200 no Ectomichorryzal Fungi 10 000 no Microfauna Protozoa 1 500 no Ciliates 400 no Nematoda 5 000 no Mesofauna Acari ca 30 000 no Collembola 6 500 yes Enchytraeids > 600 no Macrofauna Root herbivorous insects ca 40 000 no Termites 2 000 yes Ants 8 800 yes Earthworms 3 627 yes (1) total number. soil fraction unknown 8 .. Soil Biota Knowledge (from Brussart et al.Table 1 .

................... it was not considered correct to attribute a single value of EMI...... due to the variety of characters present within the group.....points 4 b) thin integument.. whose EMI is 20 Nevertheless........... EMI 1 Cicada larvae................points 5 9 . The former groups reach values that are considered the maximum representative scores given to the eu-edaphic adaptation levels for those taxa............ except for Grillotalpa................................... and members of the Grillidae family...... therefore it should not be included in QBS calculation. EMI 10 Coleoptera clearly epigeous forms............................. In the latter case............................................... their EMI is 1......... mostly epigeous (above-ground) or root-feeding forms............ other non-single value groups get their correct score according to the following rules: Orthoptera In general............. 2001) Group Score Protura 20 Diplura 20 Collembola 1-20 Microcoryphia 10 Zygentomata 10 Dermaptera 1 Orthoptera 1-20 Embioptera 10 Blattaria 5 Psocoptera 1 Hemiptera 1-10 Thysanoptera 1 Coleoptera 1-20 Hymenoptera 1-5 Diptera (larvae) 10 Other holometabolous insects (larvae) 10 (adults) 1 Acari 20 Araneae 1-5 Opiliones 10 Palpigradi 20 Pseudoscorpiones 20 Isopoda 10 Chilopoda 10-20 Diplopoda 10-20 Pauropoda 20 Symphyla 20 Notes to table 2 Some taxonomic groups get only a single EMI value...................................................................................... it must be noted that this is megafauna...................................Table 2 – Eco-morphological Indices (EMIs) (Scores to calculate QBS-ar............ 3).......... Apart from Collembola........................... which can be ranked according to a specific EMI determination (Tab............. Hemiptera In general.points 5 c) hind wings highly reduced or absent ........ Parisi. while others include a range................................... often testaceous (tan-brown) colour.................................. point 1 Main adaptations to underground life that can be detected by direct examination of specimens are: a) dimensions smaller than 2 mm .......................... same remark as for Orthoptera ........................................

...................................... usually limited to litter............................................................... pigmentation present ..............points 5 For these forms....points 5 Araneae Small forms...........................2 3) Small size -though not necessarily.................................................points 1 Formicidae.................................................. then EMI score is = 1 + 4 + 5 = 10) Hymenoptera In general...........but reduced................................... long........ well-developed visual apparatus ................................................ shrubs or trees well-developed appendages....................................................................................................................... average length of appendages................................. furca present .............................................................4 4) Hemi-edaphic forms with visual apparatus still developed.......................................................... well-developed appendages.......20 10 ....................... presence of typical structures such as pseudo-oculi...................... apomorphic sensorial structures .....6 5) Hemi-edaphic forms with reduced number of ommatidia......g.....points 10 Other forms ...............................8 6) Eu-edaphic forms with no pigmentation............. developed visual apparatus ................. complex pigmentation present.......................................... scarcely developed appendages.........................forms............ 2001) Character EMI Score 1) Clearly epigeous forms: middle to large size............ well developed visual apparatus (eye spot and eyes) ...........points 5 Forms < 5 mm .......................................................... with modest pigmentation....... cuticle with pigmentation................................................. short appendages... scarcely pigmented .....10 7) Clearly eu-edaphic forms: no pigmentation...........................................................points 5 Forms > 5 mm ............................................................... reduction or absence of ommatidia....... developed postantennal organs (character not necessarily present)........................................... well-developed legs ...... absent furca......... often short or absent furca........................points 20 Chilopoda Forms > 5 mm............................... (possible) well-developed setae or protective cover of scales.............points 20 Table 3 – A Simplified Scheme to Calculate Collembolan’s EMI (from Parisi...................... not elongated appendages......................................... d) microphtalmy or anophtalmy .........points 1 Diplopoda Forms > 5 mm ..................... the EMI value is equal to the sum of points relative to the detected characters - e.....................1 2) Epigeous forms not related with grass................ if only a) and b) are present..................................................

distally) 3 absent 6 Fanera and other integument structures great development of macro-chaetes &/or scales. Seira) 0 simple (e. sensors and particular structures present in various body parts 6 Anophtalmy 8+8 ommatidia 0 6+6 ommatidia 2 from 5+5 to 1+1 3 no ommatidia 6 Antennas antennas much longer than head diagonal 0 ca. Isotomurus. Post Antennal Organ present. Orchesella. nail often without denticulation 6 Furca well developed 0 intermediate 2 short with reduced number of setae 3 lacking mucron &/or alterations in manubria and teeth forms 5 Loss of furca or its reduction to a rudiment 6 11 . Tomocerus) 1 uniform (or limited to appendages. particular sensilla on antennas.g.Table 4: EMI Calculation for Collembola (from Parisi.g. presence of trichobotria 0 modest cover of fanera 1 topographic specialization and reduced number of chaetes. AD present (not all these characters may be 3 present) scarce chaetes. 2001) Characters EMI score Size big >3 mm 0 intermediate 2-3 mm 2 small < 2 mm 4 Pigmentation complex (e. same length 2 shorter antennas 3 much shorter (often with particular sensilla) 6 Legs well developed 0 intermediate 2 short 3 reduced or with lacking/reduced empodium.

Transformation of QBS-ar values into Soil Quality Classes (as proposed by Parisi.Table 5. biological forms with EMI = 20. 12 .. 2001 for Northern Italy) QUALITY CLASSES Only Epi-edaphic Groups &/or larvae of Holometabolous Insects 0 eu-edaphic groups* absent (eventually only mites present) only hemi-edaphic groups 1 microarthropods Onychiurids present absent QBS-ar” 2 Proturans absent Onychiurids present QBS-ar>50 3 eu-edaphic groups* QBS-ar” 4 present (at least two taxa) Proturans** present QBS-ar” 5 QBS-ar>100 QBS-ar>200 6 * i.e. ** and/or eu-edaphic Coleoptera (EMI = 20).