January 10, 2017

To National Science and Technology Council:

The American Institute of Biological Sciences (AIBS) appreciates the opportunity to comment on the Federal Framework for a Strategic Plan for Soil Science. We commend the National Science and Technology Council for developing a strong framework. We offer several comments below that we think will further strengthen the plan.

The American Institute of Biological Sciences is the national scientific organization that promotes the use of science to inform decision-making that advances biology for the benefit of science and society. We achieve this mission independently and in collaboration with our members and business partners. AIBS is a nonprofit scientific association founded in 1947 as a part of the National Academy of Sciences. We became an independent, member-governed organization in the 1950s. Today, our institutional membership includes nearly 160 scientific societies and research organizations spanning the breadth of the biological sciences.

We appreciate the increased visibility this strategic plan will provide the soil science research community. Indeed--as we are only now beginning to adequately appreciate--the biological diversity in our soils is vitally important to our wellbeing. Yet, we lack an adequate understanding of the nature of the organisms that inhabit our soils, or how they interact with and influence the organisms and systems above the soil surface. A concerted and coordinated national effort is required if we are to understand and properly manage the biological diversity and processes in our soils.

Just last week, through the Biodiversity Collections Network - a National Science Foundation Research Coordination Network grant to AIBS - we convened a group of natural science collections experts, data and cyberinfrastructure specialists, and researchers and educators to explore future research opportunities for these communities. Indeed, soil biodiversity was one of the areas some participants identified as a priority. Unfortunately, our nation has poor soil biodiversity collections or they are not linked to and integrated into other biodiversity collections. In short, there is a need for a national plan to support a coordinated effort to identify and build soil biodiversity collections, and to link these to other collections, samples, and data sources. Through a strategically built collections-network, important questions can be answered about how soil biodiversity interacts and influences ecosystem services, crop productivity, or other systems that may benefit or threaten human health.

We request that efforts to advance soil science research, particularly as it relates to biodiversity surveys and studies, build on and invest in biodiversity investments made by the National Science Foundation, as well as the leadership provided by the Smithsonian Institution. On-going efforts to digitally capture specimen images and associated data are enabling innovative research. As these data become more available, new opportunities to link them to environmental and genetic data will allow researchers to answer fundamental and applied questions. It will be a costly lost opportunity if efforts to identify the organisms inhabiting our soils were created in a system outside of the one that exists now.

We commend the NSTC for its efforts to draw attention to the importance of a coordinated national plan for soil science. We look forward to contributing to this effort in the years ahead.

Please do not hesitate to contact Dr. Robert Gropp at 202-628-1500 x 250 if we may provide any additional information.


Joseph Travis, Ph.D.

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