Natural ecosystems provide the basic conditions without which humanity could not survive. Good and services provided by ecosystems include for example provision of food, fibre and fuel, purification of water and air, cultural and aesthetic benefits, stabilization and moderation of the Earth’s climate, generation and renewal of soil fertility, including nutrient cycling or maintenance of genetic resources as key inputs to crop varieties and livestock breeds, medicines, and other products. However, the ability of natural ecosystems to continue performing these services is seriously threatened since plant species diversity or soil are being seriously deteriorated, and in some cases destroyed. While loss of species has always occurred as a natural phenomenon, the pace of extinction has accelerated dramatically as a result of human activity. Ecosystems are being fragmented or eliminated, and innumerable species are in decline or already extinct. At the same time, various studies worldwide have shown that soils do not support intensive annual plant cultivation without fertilizer applications and even these may not maintain sustainability. Inappropriate silvicultural operations or the use of land for intensive agricultural purposes is one of the main causes of soil degradation, and there is therefore worldwide interest in quantifying the loss of soil quality generated by incorrect agricultural operations or forest management practises. This can only happen if people have the right information, skills, and organizations for understanding and dealing with soil and plant diversity issues.
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