The Importance of Soils and the Roles they play in our Environment.

By: Lindsay Hunt and Kaitlyn Behrendt

Date: February 2021

Soils are easily forgotten about when it comes to their role in the environment, yet they are all around us and are important when understanding different ecosystems. Their role in an ecosystem is regulating the ecological processes which in turn, tell us about that specific ecosystem. These ecological processes can be found having a role in are nutrient uptake, water availability, decomposition and the cycling of carbon and nitrogen (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, 2015)

Soils are a medium and provide and support plants with what they need to grow and to be successful. These include the storage of water, nutrients and minerals, root support, protection from erosion, gas exchange and is a habitat for the microbes and fungi that benefit plants (World Future Council, 2018)Not only does it support microbes and fungi, but it also is a habitat for other animals such as small mammals, making soil not only an abiotic factor in the environment, but a biotic factor too (Thomas Smith, 2012)

Soils can also store gases such as oxygen, carbon, phosphorus and nitrogen, and the amounts of these can tell us about the health of the soil (Neon Science, 2020). Soils provide the tools for ecological processes and cycles to happen, and they can tell us much about these ecosystems. 

Introduction to Soil Science

Soils are combination of minerals, gasses, organic matter (dead and living organisms) and water (Soil Science Society of America, Retrived 2020). Biosphere, atmosphere, hydrosphere, time, conservation and weathering all are what influence the characteristics of a soil (Andersen, 2015)

These different combinations of influences are shown in soils through layer called horizons, which can tell us about an area like chapters in a book (Soil Science Society of America, Retrived 2020).

Soil Particles

Soil particles come from chemical and mechanical breakdowns of rocks and organimatter. (Thomas Smith, 2012) 

There are three particle sizes: Sand (largest), Silt (medium), Clay (smallest) size (Robert Flynn, 2016).

Here are videos going more in depth to particle sizes and the properties that come with them 

Kamiak Butte Soils

Using the Soil Web by UC Davis and NRCS we can look on a map and see the different soils located on Kamiak Butte and surrounding areas, these are represented as numbers for clarity and when clicked the soil data is revealed. This data can also be found at the USDA’s Soil Survey (UC Davis & NRCS, 2020). From looking at (Figure 1) it is seen that there are many unique soils of the area that makes up Kamiak Butte and the surrounding area, but when looking closely we see that the main two number classifications that show 101 (North aspect) and 102 (South aspect). Both 101 and 102 are classified as 100% Tekoa (UC Davis & NRCS, 2020)

The North aspect’s(101)  is described as Tekoa gravelly silt loam, deep with a 25 to 55 percent slopes, vs the South aspect’s (102) is described as Tekoa stony silt loam with 25 to 40 percent slopes (UC Davis & NRCS, 2020). These descriptors show a slight difference in the soils found on both aspectsAccording to the official serries classification this soil series is typically found on mountain or hill slopes, containing silty, loam, loess soils which are well drained (NRCS, 2016)

Loamy soils are soils which include a balance of sand, silt and clay particles, and are valued soils (Andersen, 2015). The Tekoa series is gravely and can have volcanic ash found within its horizons (NRCS, 2016). While both the North and South aspects of Kamiak Butte are mainly classified as 100% Tekoa, they both have slight differencesTo find these differences you’ll need to explore SoilWeb! 

Figure 1. Soilweb map of Kamiak butte

For more information about the soils at Kamiak and surrounding areas go to this site: 

SoilWeb: SoilWeb: An Online Soil Survey Browser | California Soil Resource Lab ( 

How to use: 

Click on areas you want to see soil series and more in-depth information about those soils. A box will pop up with tabs including all the information of that area. Explore!  


Andersen, P. (2015, September 10). Soil and Soil Dynamics. Retrieved from 

Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. (2015, November 5). Forests and forest soils: an essential contribution to agricultural production and global food security. Retrieved from FAO: 

Gardner, W., & Hsieh, J. (1959). Water Movement in Soils. Washington State University. Retrieved from 

Neon Science. (2020, August 26). What Can a Hurricane Tell Us About Soil Health Metrics. Retrieved from Neon Science:,planners%20as%20well%20as%20ecologists%20and%20land%20managers. 

NRCS. (2016, October). OSD View by Name. Retrieved from Soil Series USDA:,average%20annual%20precipitation%20is%2020%20to%2030%20inches. 

Robert Flynn, J. G. (2016, May 10). Visualizing Soil Properties: Particle Size. NM State University. 

Thomas Smith, R. S. (2012). Elements of Ecology. 

UC Davis & NRCS. (2020, June 4). SoilWeb. Retrieved from 

World Future Council. (2018, December 5). Why is Soil So Important? Retrieved from World Future Council :