Soil health assessment: A critical review of current methodologies and a proposed new approach.


Institute of Soil, Water and Environmental Sciences, Agricultural Research Organization, The Volcani Center, Israel. Electronic address: [Email]


The wellbeing of soils is crucial for securing food production worldwide. The soil health (SH) concept has been introduced due to an evolving understanding that soil is not just a growing medium for crops but that it provides a foundation for other essential ecosystem services (ES). The SH concept requires development of a holistic index for reliable and quantitative assessment of soil wellbeing related to the effects of different soil management practices and land uses. The aims of this paper are to: (1) review current approaches and methods to assess SH, (2) highlight the role of soil ES in characterizing soil function and (3) propose a new approach to assess SH via monitoring of ES provided by soils. We introduce a brief critical review of the following three main steps required for assessment of common SH indices: (1) selection of relevant attributes; (2) quantification and scoring approaches; and (3) integration of the selected attributes to construct the SH index. These steps usually include statistical or expert opinion-based approaches. In addition, we present a new approach that highlights the relevance and importance of soil ES, i.e., provisioning, regulating and supporting services that must be quantified for comprehensive assessment of soil functions and for fitting models that relate selected soil attributes to ES. This will allow practitioners and scholars to identify the most significant and universal attributes, quantify the relative contribution of each attribute to each ES, and subsequently assess the overall health of soils.