The sound of biodiversity

Acoustic diversity correlates to species richness of the organisms in the soil. The pioneering acoustic exploration in the Swiss project “Sounding Soil” was published in the scientific journal “Sound- scape”.

Healty soil is home to countless living organisms, all with a specific role.

by Laura Angelstorf, editor

Marcus Maeder and his co-authors discuss the relationship between sounds and under- ground biodiversity plus the influence of noise pollution on soil ecosystems in their recent scientific article. A joint project of the Zurich University of the Arts (ZHdK), ETH Zurich, Swiss Federal Institute for Forest, Snow and Landscape research (WSL) and Agroscope, the study forms a basis for clarifying the effects of human activity on the soil as a living ecosystem.

The research work is revolutionary. While the influence of ship noise on aquatic ecosystems has received considerable scientific attention, sounds in the soil have been researched only very little or not at all. The project “Sounding Soil” changes this, directing attention to the ground as an indispensable resource for the cultivation of food and thus for food security.

“For most people, the ground is simply there, a self-evident fact not afforded any great importance. But healthy soils make an enormous contribution to functioning eco- systems”, emphasises Maeder.

Since 2017, he has been recording the many, often unfamiliar sounds in the soil. Together with the Biovision Foundation, he makes the sounds emitted by soil organisms audible in a “sound container” as part of the project. The location of the sound container is regularly changed to bring awareness of the importance of healthy soils to as many people as possible. Next, Maeder and his team plan to make recordings at selected locations over longer periods of time in order to better understand sound patterns related to specific times of day, seasons and locations.