Inspiring children around the globe to learn about soil diversity – that is the aim of an initiative launched by Malte Jochum, an ecologist at the University of Würzburg.
What lives in the soil beneath our feet? How important is a functioning ecosystem in the soil for our health? And: How do we actually protect the biodiversity down there? Answers to these and similar questions about biodiversity can be found in an exciting collection of articles specially prepared for children and published in the science magazine “Frontiers for Young Minds”. The 33 articles were curated and edited by Würzburg ecologist Malte Jochum, Junior Professor of Above-belowground Interaction Ecology at the University of Würzburg (JMU), together with Helen Phillips and Remy Beugnon, both former researchers at Leipzig University and the German Centre for Integrative Biodiversity Research (iDiv), like Malte Jochum.
Initially, the 2020-2022 collection of articles was only published in English. However, on the initiative of the Leipzig team, international researchers and volunteers joined forces to translate it into as many languages as possible and thus make it accessible to children worldwide free of charge. “Soil biodiversity is vital for human societies,” says Jochum. “However, the diversity of underground life is as enormous as it is unknown to most people. There is therefore often a lack of understanding regarding the links between Global Changes and the health, fertility and stability of ecosystems below the ground. Our project is intended to help impart this knowledge to children across the world in an exciting way.”
Imparting knowledge, arousing curiosity, getting active
There are now 114 translations in 20 languages, 18 of which are available in German. 166 further translations, in a total of 41 languages are in preparation. The articles are aimed at young people between the ages of 8 and 15 – but adults can also learn something new, says Jochum: “We are not just interested in imparting knowledge. We want to encourage children and adults to actively explore the natural world around them. That’s why our contributions also provide building instructions for soil animal extractors, for example, or show how certain soil animals can be found and studied.”
The project is supported by volunteer researchers, assistants and translators. The latter can register on a dedicated website and register new translations there. A team of researchers and assistants mostly based at iDiv coordinates the project. Jochum and his colleagues are currently looking for funding to be able to continue their science communication project.
About the Junior professorship of Above-belowground Interaction Ecology
Malte Jochum has been Junior Professor for Above-belowground Interaction Ecology at the newly created Chair of Global Change Ecology at JMU since May 2023. His research focuses on the effects of multiple stressors on ecosystems – such as simultaneous climate change, land-use intensification or invasive species. He places a particular focus on the interaction between above- and below-ground ecosystem compartments.