Few people put much thought into the soil beneath their feet, but Loren Byrne does. A professor at Roger Williams University, Byrne is an expert on urban soil ecology, and he worries that humans are changing the structural integrity of soils in urban environments and limiting the ability of plants and animals to live in and nourish the earth.
“Soil is easily overlooked and taken for granted because it’s everywhere,” he said. “We walk all over it and think of it as dirt that we can manipulate at our will. But the secret of soil is what’s happening with soil organisms and what’s happening with their interactions below ground that help regulate our earth’s ecosystems.”
Byrne contributed a chapter about urban soils to a report, State of Knowledge of Soil Biodiversity, issued last year by the U.N.’s Food and Agriculture Organization. He discussed how the ecology of the soil changes as it is compacted during construction, paved over, chemically treated for lawns, and dug up and carried away.