Main authors: Else K. Bünemann
iSQAPERiS Editor: Jane Brandt


** D8.4 draft

Soil quality assessment needs to target specific soil functions or soil threats, and to provide clear interpretation of indicator values. There is no universal indicator of soil quality, as soil quality is made up of a complex of different parameters. In the context of soil quality it is important to consider indicators holistically and not focus on individual indicators. The attempt to establish a common set of soil quality indicators requires an integrated approach towards the assessment of soil quality. To support better assessment of soil quality consisting of chemical, physical and biological indicators has been developed under iSQAPER. This set, developed to reflect the breadth of ecosystem services, is recommended alongside guidance on the interpretation of indicator values. [1]

In addition to well-established indicators, the iSQAPER project assessed the relevance of a number of important novel ones including labile carbon and soil biological indicators with particular attention to responsiveness to changes. [1] Labile carbon fractions are closely related to various soil processes and ecosystem functions, such as erosion control via soil aggregation, disease regulation via soil suppressiveness, and climate regulation via carbon sequestration. [2]

Developing more responsive indicators – Understanding Change in Soil Quality and Soil Carbon Associated with Land Management - Some of these novel indicators can help to monitor soil quality in a more responsive way than has been possible until present, with indicators that can reliably demonstrate changes over shorter time periods than has been possible until now [3]. The novel indicator permanganate oxidizable carbon (POXC) is a much more informative alternative over the short term when compared to the traditional total organic carbon (TOC) indicator. These indicators thus have the possibility of improving the responsiveness of agricultural management and policy. It is essential to define these novel soil quality indicators using standardized protocols, and to make site specific data that is used to develop them publicly and consistently available.


[1] Bünemann, E. K., Bongiorno, G., Bai, Z., Creamer, R. E., De Deyn, G., de Goede, R., Fleskens, L., Geissen, V., Kuyper, T. W., Mäder, P., Pulleman, M., Sukkel, W., van Groenigen, J. W., & Brussaard, L. (2018). Soil quality – A critical review. Soil Biology and Biochemistry, 120, 105–125.

[2] Bongiorno, G., Bünemann, E. K., Oguejiofor, C. U., Meier, J., Gort, G., Comans, R., Mäder, P., Brussaard, L., & de Goede, R. (2019). Sensitivity of labile carbon fractions to tillage and organic matter management and their potential as comprehensive soil quality indicators across pedoclimatic conditions in Europe. Ecological Indicators, 99, 38–50.

[3] Bongiorno, G. (2020) “Assessing soil quality in agro-ecosystems for reversing soil degradation and enhancing soil multifunctionality”.


Further notes

At the moment there is no single page we can point to that provides a set of indicators. We have different indicator lists to use in different situations (e.g. when we need data at wide spatial scales, or have no access to laboratory tests).
  • Analysis of frequently proposed indicators from literature review
  • Novel indicators
  • Indicators that can be measured using visual soil assessment
  • A couple of measured indicators that were added to the VSA indicators to assess the impact of AMPS
  • Inter-relationships between indicators
  • Indicators that are used in SQAPP
For the Toolkit we will need to provide a single article that combines/explains the differences between these.
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