Of Dry Lands and Social Soils

Of Dry Lands and Social Soils: Wood Wide Web Uses Social Media Storytelling to Inspire Drylands Discussion. Soils are not sexy and drylands can seem like a dry topic. This is the challenge. By using the concept of ‘Social Soils’ and metaphors of social media, scientists are bringing attention to such topics as patchwork habitats and soil services during a time when countries are revisiting their biodiversity action plans.

Unlike some high profile environmental issues, land degradation and dryland biodiversity loss do not have a captivating macro fauna that represents their struggle. Admittedly, an ordinary earthworm doesn’t compare to a fluffy polar bear on the cuteness scale.

The disconnect between the importance of dryland ecosystems and its recognition by the media/ public is mirrored by the focus dedicated to drylands biodiversity — or rather, the lack thereof. The Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) is no exception. While there is a global program of work on the biodiversity of drylands and sub-humid lands, the Convention’s principal instrument for implementation at the national level, National Biodiversity Strategies and Action Plans (NBSAPs), often overlooks drylands and their biodiversity issues.

So, how to turn soils sexy and earthworms into earworms? How to inspire people to love and value drylands, and leaders to start discussing them? Especially in these critical months when countries are revising their NBSAPs , there is the opportunity for drylands issues to feature more prominently. Luckily, discussions for NBSAP practitioners and national biodiversity managers already have a platform – the NBSAP Forum, which provides support for the revision and implementation of these plans. To spark exchange, what better way than to turn data into drama and numbers into narratives? In the blink of an eye, lots of questions came to mind: Does your country include drylands areas? What are special considerations for drylands conservation planning? And why are drylands important in the first place?

Considering the connection between soil and drylands diversity, the plot came naturally: ‘Social Soils’ was coined as a hook to emphasize drylands and biodiversity issues, challenges, and solutions.

Since you started reading this article, 36,400 tweets were sent and 45,632 pieces of content were shared on Facebook. These statistics underline the fact that, worldwide, 2 billion internet users spend 15 percent of their online time on social media.

Then again, this number is only greeted with weary smiles by some other creatures that might not update their status as often, but are way more connected than us. These are the creatures that invented a different social network 400 million years ago. The Wood Wide Web is the largest unseen communication system on Earth, where 92 percent of all plant families have an account. Instead of tweeting, plants use symbiotic association between their roots and special fungi. This so-called mycorrhiza enables long distance communication between plants by sending chemical information that benefits the receivers. Messages like ‘#StimulateDefense against @Parasites’ or ‘#InhibitGrowth of neighbouring @Plants. PLS retweet’ turn a habitat into one super-organism. Soil Social Media at its best...'

About the Author

Philipp Gassner is an “opportunitarian” with a passion for knowledge, people, and the environment. As interface expert for sustainability knowledge management and strategic communication, he frees science and sustainability from the green ivory tower. Philipp turns data into drama, numbers into narrative, and stats into stories.

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